Friday, August 29, 2008

Zombies, Braaaaiinnnnnnns, and Mixology: An Interview With Mark Henry

When I first heard about a zombie-laden urban fantasy, my first thought was, "Oooh! I have a zombie fanatic friend who'd love that!" Never having been a connoisseur of the zombie genre, I thought the idea was interesting and worth checking out...later.

I should have rushed the bookstore that day. It's not purely urban fantasy. More like UF meets snarky chic lit after a serious bender - and then satirized. When I finally picked up Happy Hour of the Damned, I couldn't put it down, and I didn't stop laughing. I took it in the shower, I got soup on it, and it even spent a couple spine-bending nights getting squashed when I rolled over on it in my sleep. It's been so long since I laughed out loud at a book that when I finished, I began my evil plan to interview the author.

I'm not sure if it's a testament to my diabolical nature or Mark Henry's masochism, but I didn't even have to ask. Shazam!

So strap on your Antonio Berardi crazy shoes, grab a mojito, and kick back with Mark Henry.

You have quite the talent for climbing inside a woman's mind, which I assume you managed with your psychotherapy-fu. What fu did you use to create such incredibly crass, flawed, shallow, self-absorbed characters that are so fun and - dare I say - sympathetic?

Easy. I just based them on my friends and me…and a whole lot of other people, obviously. The dialogue and particularly the foul language is definitely de rigeur in my social group and the internal stuff is totally a result of my psychotherapy background. I don't think I've met a person I considered free of flaws, so I certainly couldn't write one. All the characters in my worlds are damaged and neurotic and quirky. EVERYONE. Just like real life, except dead and stuff.

I've heard you're a pantser, but I'm curious about the use of footnotes (tres geek chic!) and the quoted fictional city guides at the start of each chapter. Were those part of your first draft, or did they come into play later? And after you've gone all Rowling on us with a TV series and release night parties, do you plan to write a collection of these guides a la Quidditch Through the Ages?

I'm totally a pantser, though I'm frequently seen wearing shorts so maybe I'm a shortser. I've had to get in the habit of outlining for my publisher, as of late, but that's really, reaaaaallly outside my comfort zone. Still, it does help to pull all the lose strings of my mind together more coherently and force me to think in a linear fashion. The footnotes and chapter lead-ins were definitely in the first draft, but kind of happened accidentally. I kept thinking of bits of snark and habits for Amanda (her lists, her social commentary). They seemed to not want to end up on the cutting room floor--so they didn't. I've tried to make them feel like she was talking directly to the reader. I hope I've succeeded in that. Some people don't like them. As for guidebooks, I'm putting together stuff like that for my website redesign so people will have to check that out.

You created a wild world of monsters and supernatural badasses in HHotD - zombies, werewolves, vampires, demons, crazed werebears, sirens, actors, and advertising executives. It sounds like you might have been inspired by some of the craptastic horror flicks of the 70s and 80s. What movies would you say have most influenced you creatively?

There's definitely homage to John Waters' filth classics Female Trouble and Pink Flamingos at work in Amanda's world (you can sometimes hear it in the dialogue--or I can, at least), and I'll agree I love me some shock and schlock. The first thing that came to mind horror-wise when I read the question was Prophecy with Talia Shire. For those that haven't seen it, Prophecy was one of those anti-toxic chemical dumping "Statement" movies like Food of the Gods and Empire of the Ants where animals just got freaky big and piranhas grew wings and shit. In Prophecy, there's this bear that's kind of like a fish and just a real mash-up of everything that horror movies tried to capture in the 70s. That's kind of like Happy Hour of the Damned, it's just a big mash up of weird influences and loves. Zombies, of course, being my fave.

In the world you've created, there are two types of zombies - those who are made when they inhale the incredibly rare zombie breath (oh, the stank, how it must burn) and those who are bitten to become the classic walking dead (mistakes). And in this world a troupe of child-like beings cleans up the mistakes. These reapers are so creeptastic, I envisioned the Village of the Damned sprogs on kid-roids. How did you decide to use little girls for such a gruesome job?

There was no question when I wrote the book that the reapers had to be little girls, and more than that…cute little girls, almost doll-like. There's more thought in those characters than you'd imagine and it comes from working with children for so long in my previous incarnation as a therapist. I'm totally convinced that hypervigilant child protection is creating a generation that can't function appropriately in societal systems (employment, higher education, effective family). Without going on a diatribe here, the less children are held responsible for their own actions, the more difficulty they have adjusting to systems that require them to do just that. It's that blue ribbon for everyone mentality. It doesn't lend itself to learning about reality where second place is just first loser. Learn it, love it, live it--to swipe a line from Jawbreaker. The reapers are an anti-child protection statement (don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating we not protect our children here, just let them make some freakin' mistakes and understand that not everyone is going to think they're unique precious flowers). The reapers are children who need no protection. They are a symbol of responsibility. And yeah. They're scary, because so is the idea that child-rearing has taken a wrong turn.

Jesus! I didn't mean for that to get heavy, but I guess it did.

Which brings us back to the zombies, I'm thinking that in one of the books, there'll be four different kinds of zombies (Haitian voodoo, Romero-ish, fast ones and then my Breathers). The Haitian ones don't show up until book 4. I'm still working on that, I've got to figure out the symbolic nature of each first. You got your commercialism, your overpopulation…ugh, I'm braindead.

Since Amanda now knows she's not quite as prone to long-term disfigurement as she once thought, is she going to be just a wee bit more proactive (well, as much as she can be without looking like she cares)?

She is definitely more proactive in Road Trip of the Living Dead, but as time goes by and with inflation, let's just say the reapers don't do anything for free.

It's a living dead smackdown! Who wins, and will there be cocktails after?

  1. Amanda vs a zombie from Stephen King's Cell
    I haven't read Cell, I'm ashamed. I imagine Amanda's smarter, though, and if they are typical zombies, they probably wouldn't have any intention of trying to eat another dead thing. So…advantage Amanda
  2. Amanda vs a zombie from 28 Days Later
    Amanda's a goner. Those freaks are just plain crazy and seriously it's hard to run in stilettos.
  3. Amanda vs Michael Kors
    This is a conundrum. Amanda loves fashion but she also loves her food. She might sidestep Kors and say auf wedersen to Klum.
  4. Michael Kors vs Cristobal Balenciaga
    Balenciaga hands down. Since his death in '72, Chris, as Amanda calls him, has been chewing through up-and-comers in the fashion industry like pac-man. All in a slim-fitting three piece suit. Tres chic for an elderly zombie.
  5. Santino vs Christian Siriano
    Wow. That's a tough one. They're both fierce, but Santino has the walk. Yeah. As much as I like Siriano, I'm going to go with the balding provacateur, he's definitely not adverse to fighting dirty.
  6. Gil vs Tim Gunn
    See. Now this just wouldn't happen. Gil would probably turn Tim. No probablies about it. He'd vamp Tim Gunn quicker than you can say "make it work."

In addition to your MA in Psychology, do you also boast a certificate in mixology? What would the recipe for a sweetmeat-tini look like?

Dear sweet Kerri-Leigh, you're just being silly with that question. The sweetmeat is just for garnish on a top shelf vodkatini with a mist of vermouth. In fact, that recipe just might make it into Battle of the Network Zombies (the tentative title of book 3). I don't have a certificate but I certainly am no stranger to a cocktail shaker.

Amanda's all about fashion, reality TV, and marketing. Did you set out to continue the time-honored tradition of using zombies to highlight consumerism, or was this an accidental act of genius on your part? How do the secondary characters (non-zombie) play into this?

Oh no. No accident as evidenced by my over-thinking of question #4. I loved Dawn of the Dead (original and remake); so when I set out to write a chick lit parody (already rife with shoe and fashion references), zombies were a natural accompaniment. I did add the element of shame as a theme, which threw a wrench into things, I think. Vampires, likewise, take on an emotional sponge quality, much like they do amongst the people we know (I'm not talking about anyone specifically, of course…ahem).

There's been an uprising of zombie mistakes, and they're busy munching their way across the world. You're stuck in an old bomb shelter in the basement, and you only had room for five books on your bookshelf. If you had to choose one literary, one urban fantasy, one horror, one romance, and one anthology, what would they be?

Literary: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marissa Pessl. While its framework is a mystery, there are enough literary references in this book to choke a zombie. Plus, Pessl's simile use is off the chain! I also LOVED Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst and The Keep by Jenifer Egan.

Urban Fantasy: Coyote Blue by Christopher Moore. Coyote and Minty Fresh are two of my favorite characters ever. A close runner up would have been Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Unholy Ghosts (forthcoming) from Stacia Kane just about killed me. So jealous.

Horror: Gotta go with King again. The Stand (extended version). Apocalyptic horror with supernatural elements? Hells yeah!

Romance: This is tricky. What I consider romance and the definition of romance with happily ever afters are two very different things. I'm going to go with Lisey's Story by Stephen King, which is just this brilliant glimpse of the interior of a marriage after the death of the husband. The language is so foreign and exclusive to the couple, the reader nearly feels intrusive. It's lovely. But because it's King, it satisfies on a horrific level, as well. I did just read Countdown by Michelle Maddox, which was a romantic thriller and really fun.

Anthology: Anthologies aren't really my thing. I find myself buying them for a specific story. I did enjoy Book of the Dead in the 80s but it's out of print. It contained this awesome sentient zombie story based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel called Less than Zombie. Brilliant. He really nailed Ellis' voice.

What is your writing kryptonite?

Outlines. I can write half a book in the time it takes me to write a few pages of outline. I don't think in short snippets. Humor doesn't come that way either.

Are you worried about getting sued by Starbucks, or are you expecting a royalty check from them?

I did. I worried that they had pictures of me up next to the cash registers like a bad check, but I guess I just lucked out. After all, it's not like Starbucks was the brains behind the operation, you know?

So, when Amanda eats her victims and leaves no trace, what happens to the clothes? Does she ever end up fishing a rogue scrap of underthings from her mouth?

Sure. And the other stuff just passes through, though not as violently as if it were food. I just leave that out because there's enough defecation in the books already.

When I heard that the next book is called Road Trip of the Living Dead, I wondered - is it cheating if it's your zombie? Where is Amanda headed, and do they have Starbucks there?

Only if you lure it with meat powder, then it's cheating. And seriously, a place where there is no Starbucks? That's just crazy talk. Kerri-Leigh you need to take your medication.

Thank you, Mark, for awesome answers and for not threatening to eat my brains.

You can visit Mark at his main site or at his awesomely fun group blog. His current work of genius is available now. In Mark's own words (since he's so darn good with them):

Join me for Happy Hour of the Damned, a zomedy with cocktails and eyeliner; it's on sale now wherever pretty people buy books. Road Trip of the Living Dead is coming soon from Kensington Books.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Just be's not that hard

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in my local sheriff's office citizens' academy. After sitting through six weeks of law enforcement demonstration and opinion, I believe the experience brought realism to my writing. Out of all the personnel I met during this time, there was one sergeant who impressed me above anyone else and her words still resonate with me to this day.

Just be professional, it's not that hard.

Sadly, I can't remember her name, but I took note of her words. She was a twenty-year veteran of the sheriff's office, and as this beautiful Hispanic woman stood before the class and explained that she worked in the jail -- unarmed -- among male inmates, I thought, Holy cow, this lady won't live long. Silly me. She'd worked among them for years. What's more, she was required to turn her back on this criminal element -- often.

For anyone who's been in a jail, you know there's intense security and surveillance, and the deputies can call upon immediate assistance. But knowing this didn't make me feel better. I kept thinking she could be injured or dead before help could arrive.

Turns out she hadn't made sergeant for nothing and understood the risks. What's more, she carried herself with amazing grace and an even more amazing sense of who she was. She didn't look tough on the outside, but as she called one six-foot naysayer to the front, she brought him down with such ease it filled me with a whole new appreciation and respect for who she was and what she did for a living.

After she dropped my classmate to his knees, she modestly helped him up and shook his hand. Then she turned to the class and said, "Just be professional, it's not that hard."

She also went on to explain that as a Hispanic female charged with watching over incarcerated inmates, it oftentimes presented problems. Particularly, when many of those inmates were Hispanic and grew up in households in which men did not take orders from women. So not only did the sergeant face an authority issue, she encountered a cultural barrier.

How did she handle it? By treating everyone with respect. "Those men don't know me," she said. "Their slurs and insults can't reach me. When my shift ends I go home to my family and the opinions that count."

So why do I tell you this story? Because today I'm seeing exactly what she talked about -- a reduction in professionalism. Worse, we are not inmates. I'm seeing dry wit replaced by so-called snarkiness (I have another term for it). What's more, often this type of behavior is applauded. In an on-line society, where we are faceless individuals behind a computer screen, it's so easy to react and push send and forget there's a real live, flesh and blood human being on the other side.

I recently listened to a radio ad in which two actors portrayed school-aged girls, one of whom said the most horrible things to her peer. I sat back stunned, thinking what on earth? Then at the end of the message, the voice over said, "You wouldn't say it to their face, why would you say it on line?"

I don't know about you, but for anyone to even feel the need to air such a public service announcement made me incredibly sad. As for me, I hope to follow the sergeant's advice and take her words to heart. I'll strive for professionalism. I learned from the very best that it's not that hard.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

No Such Thing as Bad Publicity

Years ago when I’d just started writing, I made a wonderful friend in Regency author Noelle Gracy who wrote as Catherine Blair. Probably lack of originality more than anything, caused me to name my heroine Catherine. It was a pretty name and well suited my character—so I borrowed part of her pseudonym. In Noelle’s next book she gave her housekeeper my married surname, Brooks. I made her the heroine of my story, and she made me a servant! And she’s a published author with a solid readership, so more people than editors and agents actually read her books. A lot more!

So in my last book, my heroine’s name is Noelle. I gave Noelle a gorgeous, rich, smart, sensitive hero husband akin to George Clooney, but alas, she also had an accident and became a quadriplegic. Did I mention I’m Irish-Italian? Sicilian Italian. I believe in revenge. Some call it karma; the Italians call it something else. Just teasing—sort of.

Around this time, Noelle put her writing career on hold to procreate, but I’m certain that when she starts writing again, she’ll name her next heroine Theresa and she’ll be the most beautiful, smart, most gracious heroine on the face of the earth. Pretty sure at least.

I was reminded of our teasing antics when I watched the Writers Digest Live podcast of Steve Berry, James Rollins and Brad Thor. The three authors are great friends and were together for thrillerfest 2008 last month. They talked about the silly pranks they pulled on each other, but also how one of their pranks generated some very surprising publicity results.

They quietly began writing each other’s characters into their own books. Nothing very obvious, often times as subtle as just a reference, like Berry’s detective referred the case to Rollins’ private eye—or something like that. Or Rollins’ main character visited the bookstore (which he identified only by address) run by Barry’s main character Cotton Malone. But the fans noticed BIG TIME and started bombarding both authors with emails to point out that one author was STEALING the other’s character and that they should sue the miscreant who dared to infringe on his character.

All three authors were very surprised that their prank was detected by the fans and amused by the fan’s fierce protection of their characters. Not that any of the best selling authors need the extra publicity—but it never hurts. And they totally lucked into this venue by just having a little fun. Sometimes you get lucky!

Wonder how many of us are going to try and copy their luck? Think it would work for less well-known authors?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Loose Id and Doreen DeSalvo

Doreen DeSalvo is one of the wizards behind the curtain at Loose Id (pronounced lucid), an author, and a student at Seton Hill University. As a co-owner of a successful electronic publisher, she has insight into the growing ebook industry, and she's in an excellent position to dish on the romance genre.

Her generosity led to my usual third degree, though I'm sad to say there are no fun smackdown questions here. Le sigh. Perhaps next time!

How much impact does a formal education have in a query or cover letter as far as Loose Id is concerned?

In a query letter, you have a limited amount of time to convince an editor your writing is worth a look. Telling us you're serious enough about writing to pursue a graduate degree is a great way to make an impression, especially if your program is in genre fiction. Loose Id has several authors who came from the Seton Hill University Writing Popular Fiction program, so it has a great reputation with us.
Incidentally, Loose Id accepts partial submissions of up to three chapters. You can read our full guidelines here.

What prompted you to pursue your Master's degree in Seton Hill's WPF program?

I've always had a penchant for academia. There are some wonderful writer-based organizations that offer workshops, such as the Romance Writers of America, but that can only take you so far. I got to a point where I wanted to study romance from a more analytical point of view, as well as learn some new techniques from professional instructors. I'm transitioning from writing erotic romance to writing mainstream historical romance, and this seemed like an ideal time to branch out and try an academic writing program as well.

What sources do you recommend for writers who want to continue learning the craft and the business of writing popular fiction?

I've already mentioned the Romance Writers of America -- they have nearly 10,000 members, and local chapters in most cities around the country. Join a local chapter and meet other like-minded writers. You'll learn more about the business than you can possibly absorb; the organization also offers conferences, workshops, and opportunities to meet hundreds of editors and agents. The biggest benefit is the membership itself. I've found the members to be incredibly generous with their time and knowledge. Some of my closest friends were met in RWA. Even if you don't write in the romance genre, you'll find a wealth of information applicable to other genres.
If you're looking for a more academic perspective, Seton Hill University can't be beat. To my knowledge, there's no other program that takes genre fiction so seriously.

I'd also recommend you focus more on your own writing than anything else. The business talk can be overwhelming and distracting. It's nice to know who the major distributors of paperback books are, but that doesn’t really help you write your book. The only thing a writer can control is the words on the page. Make them the best you can so that your book sparks interest in an editor and ultimately in readers.

With the amazing growth of e-books in the last few years, likely thanks to the Kindle, Sony's reader, and the handful of other e-book readers available, it seems as if this industry has the potential to really explode. Where do you see e-books and print books in five years?

There's been slow but steady growth when it comes to "mainstream" fiction in electronic format, and I think that growth will continue over the next decade. But in my opinion, the real appeal of E-books isn't in the technology, but in the subject matter of the books themselves. I believe the most successful E-books are the ones that simply aren't available in print. That's why most of the leading E-publishers are those that release cutting edge erotic romance -- they're publishing something that isn't being released by New York publishers. No matter how "hot" the mainstream print publishers go, in my opinion they will never be willing to go to the extremes of passion that E-presses do.

Also, readers of such hot material often don't want it in print form, because they don't want to be seen reading such things at the soccer game or on the bus. We've all been embarrassed by some of the covers on print books we're reading. E-books give readers far more privacy than print. To use an analogy, back in the dawn of the PC, analysts said that Lotus 1-2-3 was the "killer application" that made every company want to buy PCs for their employees; without Lotus 1-2-3, no one really needed a computer. In a similar way, erotic romance is the "killer application" that makes E-bookreaders viable.

How does Loose Id plan to position itself as the industry evolves?

We believe in keeping our organization streamlined so we can react quickly to any changes in the industry. Although we have a very talented staff of editors and artists, the owners are still involved in the big management decisions, and we communicate with each other almost every day.

We've been profitable since our second quarter back in 2004, and we have a substantial financial cushion that enables us to flex our muscle for the good of the industry as well as the good of the company and its authors. One example is when Triskelion Publishing went bankrupt in 2007. Their authors' contracts were held up in bankruptcy court, and Loose Id decided to put in a bid to get those rights and return them to the authors. As a company we always try to do "the next right thing." Above all, we operate with integrity and honesty.

We do have plans for the next few years, but we like to hold our cards close to the vest until we're ready to announce them. One exciting avenue we've become involved in is Second Life, the virtual reality world. You can find a Loose Id kiosk and free promotional items in the Second Life world, including some of our authors' books that can be "carried" around the Second Life space. We'll be expanding our Second Life presence in the near future. We're always exploring new technologies and new audiences, in keeping with our overall image for Loose Id -- hip, funny, sexy and smart.

The e-publishing industry has changed a great deal in the past ten years. How do you think the e-book world has improved? What would you like to see work better in the future?

I think it's fabulous that huge companies like Sony and Amazon are getting into the mix. Now that I've given them kudos, I'll say that my biggest complaints are with the E-book readers themselves. I own several E-readers, and I used to work in high tech designing applications for mobile phones, so please excuse me while I go into geek lecture mode.

First, there is a lot of room for improvement in the user interface of E-readers. Changing from one book to another is a lot more difficult than it should be -- it should be as easy as picking up a physical book from a shelf. The product designers need to look at the original Palm Pilot, which did only a few things, but did them more easily than anything else on the market.

I'd also like to see more advances made in battery life and in backlit displays. The Electronic Ink technology (pioneered by Sony and a company in France named Bookeen) is fantastic, but I want backlighting when I need it. Those screens are hard to read in anything but optimal lighting.

Aesthetically, the devices leave a lot to be desired. Both the Sony E-reader and the Amazon Kindle are utilitarian in appearance, to put it kindly. I'd love to see Apple jump into the mix with a sleek, sexy product.

I'd also like to see more open technology. Sony and the Kindle are hanging themselves with their proprietary format, in my opinion, just like the Rocket E-book did before them. An open platform is the way to get your product the widest acceptance. There is an E-book reader from Bookeen called the Cybook that has an open platform -- you can put books in many formats on it, and you can even install your own fonts -- but they don't have a lot of advertising. I highly recommend it as the best E-book reader on the market.

When it comes to the industry as a whole, I'd like to see more openness in the sales venues. Why is it so difficult to get books onto a Kindle unless you purchase them from Amazon? The same charge can be levied against Sony. There is no excuse for these closed-transfer systems. The customer bought the device -- don't stop them from putting any content she sees fit on it.

:: climbing down from soapbox now ::

There are so many authors who publish through both e-publishers like Loose Id and more traditional presses. Some stick to one or the other.

What need(s) does Loose Id fulfill for readers and writers that the traditional presses don't or can't?

I've touched on the reader aspect a bit already. Loose Id gives readers their most extreme fantasies, in a manner that ensures their privacy. When you're reading an E-book, no one sees the cover of the book but you. It's your secret.

In the same way, we give authors the freedom to explore their wildest ideas. Our editors will help shape them in a direction that appeals to our readers, but we want the author to feel that we're giving them assistance, not issuing mandates. If you have an idea that's hot and twisted, that your friends have told you "will never fly in New York," give us a call. It could be exactly what we're looking for.

Let's talk about the romance genre. Do you believe romance novels are purely escapist fiction, or do you see them as feminist literature?

I think they're both. If you look at the surface of romance novels, they seem to be saying that women aren't complete without men. I think the opposite is true -- it's the MEN in romance novels who aren't complete without a woman. That's pure escapist fantasy, the type to gratify a woman's ego. Some of us secretly love to see a strong man brought to his knees by the love of a good woman. Yet in reality, plenty of men are happy and complete without a woman, just as plenty of women are happy and complete without men. And of course I'm talking about heterosexual romance here. There is a whole wide world of lesbian and gay romance that serves an important market, and Loose Id is proud to have a part of that audience.

Another feminist argument is that romance novels put women at the center of their own stories. The women in these books make their own decisions, and that is powerful and liberating.

As a feminist, I find it sad that romance is the genre most widely maligned. It seems that misogyny is alive and well in some parts of our society -- any book written by and for women is subject to ridicule, simply on the basis of the gender of its authors and readers.

Current trends in the romance market point to some wicked polarization - erotic and inspirational romances rule sales, while the stories in between seem to have fizzled. What do you make of this, and how long do you think that trend might last?

The polarization in the market is nothing new, in my opinion. A few decades ago, the strongest sellers were the "sweet" Harlequin lines and the sexier historicals, like Joanna Lindsey and Rosemary Rogers. Over time, those extremes have solidified into Inspirational and Erotica.

And don't forget, there is still plenty of room in the middle for some huge best sellers. Just as one example, Julia Quinn isn't writing inspirational or graphic love scenes, and last time I checked her sales would make just about any author envious. Same for Nora Roberts.

Romance is a HUGE tent, with a huge readership. Of course there's polarization. It's a little like comparing the Sierra Club to the Girls' Scouts. There's plenty of room in the woods for everyone.

Aside from the advice to sit down and write, what do you recommend to writers who want to make a career out of their passion for storytelling?

I'm lifting this straight off of my Web site:

  • Don't ever give up! That's the best piece of advice I can give you. Talent is important, but persistence is even more important. Even after you've been published, you'll still have to deal with rejections, revisions, and bad reviews. Find a way to keep writing. Protect your muse and don't allow anyone to mock or deride your desire to be a writer.
  • Study the craft. My favorite book on the craft of writing fiction is Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. Another great craft book is Plot by Anson Dibell, which is about a whole lot more than plot. The discussion of "mirroring" scenes was worth a hundred times the cost of the book.
  • Stay sane. Nothing puts your ego, self-esteem, and self-confidence on the line quite like writing...especially if you write in a genre like romance, which has been openly ridiculed throughout recorded history. Find a way to handle the insecurity and rejection without self-medicating or going crazy. A book that's helped me weather the slings and arrows is Writing from the Inside Out by Dennis Palumbo. It's not a book on craft; it's a book about how to keep your sanity and self-esteem when you're a sensitive, creative type at heart.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer all my random questions, Doreen! I hope we see a lot more of Loose Id in the future.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Dishing with the Contest Coordinators


Contest coordinating isn't glamorous, but the benefits for the chapter and the entrants make it worthwhile. As coordinators, we wear many hats, and not all of them are pretty. First, is our begging hat: finding first and final round judges requires a lot of generous people -- and sometimes a little bribery! Next, is our captain's hat: overseeing all the submissions, getting the entries to the judges and staying on top of the deadlines. Then, there's the postal hat: many entrants do not put the right amount of postage on their return envelope. So, we spend a lot of time at the post office making friends (and one enemy) with the postal workers. And the dictator hat: dealing with judges who don't return their score sheets on time means being hardcore and making the uncomfortable e-mail or phone call. The best part is wearing the party hat: notifying entrants that they're finalists.

We coordinate the Greater Detroit RWA's Between the Sheets contest and the Golden Network's Golden Pen contest. Both unpublished contests are unique. Between the Sheets is a love scene contest, with entries varying from sweet to erotica. This is one of the few contests where writers can get feedback on their love scenes. The Golden Pen offers critiques on proposal length entries from experienced judges -- with a guarantee of one published author and one Golden Heart finalist per entry.

Why do we do this? Gluttons for punishment? Inability to say 'no'? It's actually for a more selfish reason. The contests are one of the many ways for our chapters to make money. And when our chapters make money, we benefit through the programs. Coordinating the contest also gives us a chance to interact with authors around the world.

Contest coordinating may not be glamorous, but we are.

~ Liz Heiter and Robbie Terman, Coordinators
Greater Detroit RWA's Between the Sheets Contest
& The Golden Network's Golden Pen Contest


I volunteered for such a time-consuming job to give back to my local chapter. Of course, when I volunteered it wasn't supposed to hit at MY busiest time -- seven book releases this year, a new time frame for Heart of the Rockies, a brand new, full-time job, and a part-time job on weekends. Still, I volunteered for it and something inside me wouldn't let me back down, especially when I could help so many newbies out there -- I was just there as one, after all.

Something for contestants to remember during contests. The most important thing is: FOLLOW THE RULES. The envelope is always pushed in this day and age, but the problem is you're preparing yourself for publication by entering contests. Push it with the publisher and your manuscript won't see daylight.

2) A coordinator can't "bend the rules" for one person. Every contestant out there is "one person" but I deal with at least one hundred. That's a hundred broken rules, not one. I guarantee, you're not the only one asking for a deadline extension or a do-over in sending your manuscript in because you forgot something.

3) What makes our contest stand out is the final judge target. While I didn't have a say in every judge, I was able to secure two judges who are very active in getting unknowns published, Raelene Gorlinski and Sue Grimshaw. In fact, both helped in getting my critique partner, Melissa Mayhue and me published.

4) What stands out the most in contests is the professional contestant. The person who submits, follows the rules, everything's on time and perfect. Not that I mind when people are confused and send me e-mails to clarify things, but the person who doesn't actually stands out from the rest. In fact, I have someone in mind right now; I could repeat the name etched in my brain if I released personal information.

5) I hope that aspiring authors realize a contest is a tool, not a crutch. You learn from contests, you hope to catch a judge's eye by entering IF you plan to publish. Don't fall into the trap of submitting the same "winning" manuscript over and over to add "winner" notches to your belt. A winner title does nothing for you if you're not getting paid.

~ Rena Marks, Coordinator
Heart of the Rockies, Colorado Romance Writers

Born Again, Forgotten Kisses (Ellora's Cave) ~


Okay, I've been a contest coordinator. After being a contest junkie. And a contest judge. I've seen contests from all sides. I am a seasoned contest person. I have "creds." Why did I agree to take on contest coordinating? Because no one else was available, I'd been a category coordinator, I'm a responsible Capricorn, and the eldest female child of an Irish Catholic family. I understand responsibility, guilt and duty.

This is what I've learned about coordinating.

You need to be more ORGANIZED than you ever thought you could be. That's even if you're used to having daily lists, weekly objectives, strategic plans and five-year goals. And you've achieved them. You need DIPLOMACY and shoulders wider than Joan Collins' suits in Dynasty.

No matter how clearly you think you've set things up, explained, taught, given directions, minor skirmishes will arise, feelings will be bruised and bridges must be maintained. These situations are equal opportunity: judges, entrants, coordinators, past coordinators -- any or all may at times have issues that need a shoulder to cry on or words to calm seething feelings.

You need the WISDOM of Solomon, times ten. Without a doubt, you will have to arbitrate issues or interpretations of rules that come at you from a world far beyond your wildest imaginings. And you will admit graciously when you've made a mistake and take the blame for others. Like Harry Truman believed: The buck stops here. In contests, the issues stop with you.

You must LOVE people and love writing. That's what contests are really all about. Coordinating is a form of giving without expectations of receiving anything in return -- a very high type of love. When you get that Thank you, or Job Well Done, treasure it. That's likely a major reason why you will do the job again.

Finally, be SMART. Watch for a replacement and prepare the person well. That is a major contribution in whatever "legacy" you leave; for it is the continuity of excellence that keeps a contest successful year after year.

~ Mary Jo Sheibl, Coordinator
FAB 5, Wisconsin Romance Writers of America [WisRWA]


I haven't been doing contest coordinating long ... seriously as in only a couple of months. I signed on because, honestly, my local chapter NOLA STARS, seemed desperate for someone to take the job. I mean, they had to be if they were asking me! So far it's been, we'll just say challenging because I don't know what this blog is rated. Parts of it is pretty darn cool. I get to talk with editors and agents and beg them to judge for us. Sometimes groveling works, other times -- not as much, and that's when things can be difficult. I often worry what if I can't find anybody to judge? I'm going to be a huge failure!

Luckily, I have a wonderful staff that helped with the contest last year. They support me with all my ideas and I love having them (because who doesn't like a group of people who like almost all you suggest?). I've been in charge of updating our website information, which has been more time consuming than difficult, but that's okay. If everything was easy, I would be bored senseless -- though not as sleepy.

I'm anxious to start taking in entries to see how big of a success we are, but I know that will be a challenge. The method will be streamlined if entrants be sure to follow ALL instructions to a "T". Another big help will be if all first round judges judge their entries and get them back in a timely manner. The biggest downside of coordinating I've found so far (though ask me in a year, and I might have a different answer)? As coordinator I'll also be judging, so I won't be able to enter our wonderful contest -- the SUZANNAH.

~ Keri Ford, Coordinator
The Suzannah - NOLA Stars

And there you have it. Aren't these generous women amazing? Thanks for dishing with us, ladies! ~ Donnell

Friday, August 8, 2008

What's on your TBR shelf?

I can't seem to stop myself from buying good books. I'm soooo lucky my degree (and my career aspirations) make reading pop fiction a requirement.

What's on my shelf right now? Keep in mind, this list doesn't include the 20-ish books I packed up to ship ahead of me when I move in a few weeks. These are just the books I know I'll read within the next month...

Minion*, L.A. Banks
Gale Force, Rachel Caine
The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance, Trisha Telep ed.
Through the Veil, Shiloh Walker
Coffin County, Gary Braunbeck
Dark Hollow, Brian Keene
Darkness Wakes, Tim Waggoner
Wraith, Phaedra Wilson
Industrial Magic*, Kelley Armstrong
Fallen, Erin McCarthy
The Iron Hunt, Marjorie M. Liu
The Devil You Know, Jenna Black
The Good Fairies of New York, Martin Millar
Phantasmagoria*, Marina Warner
Techniques of the Selling Writer*, Dwight Swain

So what's on your list?

*These are required books for this term at school. Personal Demons by Stacia Kane was my fifth required book.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

It's Time To Learn How Not To Take Myself So Seriously

If you all have read any of my previous blogs, you know I had a huge schedule change this summer at the bank which really impacted my writing time. Then as life happens to all of us, there has been one family crisis after another.

But I thought I was dealing OKAY with all the angst until this triple whammy; I didn’t advance to the semi’s in any of the writing contests I’d entered.

I tearfully re-read the contest advancement lists, to be certain I hadn’t missed my name, then sat my office and wondered why I so miserable. Sure not winning is hard to take, I’m a competitive girl, but it’s happened before and I didn’t feel this bad.

So I sat and I pondered, much like the Grinch wondering why the Who’s in Whoville still sang after their Christmas was taken away until I realized I wasn’t loving any part of the process I professed to love so much. None of it, the rewriting, the querying, the fun of a new story. It all seemed...POINTLESS.

I grimaced and shed a tear or two, then sat on the patio with my husband and told him I needed a change.

After he got over his shock, he told me to do whatever it is that I wanted, but reminded me that I love writing, I’m good at my craft, and I needed to take the time to find that passion again and above all, not to take it all so seriously. (WHOA, this from an Attorney?)

Of course he’s right. For the last umpteen years I’ve been taking this career, this JOB so seriously that every high was breathtaking and every low was heartbreaking. I dreamt of an Oscar or an Emmy, I even had my dress designed in my head.

And then it dawned on me, I was looking at "reward" as success, doing well in a contest, getting that Oscar, because frankly we’ll all taught that the golden ring is the prize. And I was a failure because I hadn’t "won" whichever "prize" I was going for. I forgotten what I’d learned when I started this journey, that every little step up the ladder is success. Every page written and rewritten is success. That a well written line is a joy.

I’d preached and taught everyone else to take their writing seriously, YET enjoy the process...and I’d forgotten to do that very thing.

I’ve always felt guilty when I was doing something else on my rigidly scheduled writing time, and we all know guilt isn’t a good place to write from. I was creating a pressure cooker inside me.

So, I’m not giving up this dream, that was never an option and I know it will take me time to unlearn habits. And then, what will my new habits be? I don’t know yet. Heck, will there even be a habit? Probably, as we are creatures of the word. But I know I can do this if I just don’t take it all so seriously...even the change.

Let the process begin.

Oh, and I'll be out of touch for awhile. I'll check in when I can.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Commercial vs Literary Books

I heard an author speak, got to know her a little, and thought she had a delightful sense of humor, so I bought her literary book. Though it’s not what I usually read, too many people have espoused the virtues of reading outside your genre for me to ignore—so I was doing a new friend a favor in buying her book and doing the writer in me a favor by broadening my reading horizons.

When I heard the author then confess that anybody picking up her book and looking for a plot will likely be bitterly disappointed. I felt a twinge of unease—I am a plotter. I LOVE plots. In fact, characters only exist so I can move them through wonderful complex plots. But I’ve always maintained that I can learn something from any book. So I began reading my literary novel. And I learned something.

Five nights later, I’d covered sixty some pages and while being mildly amused by the characters and impressed with the author’s easy way with similes, the book had no real story. I decided to give myself a break and picked up David Baldacci’s Simple Truth and in under an hour, I was surprised to note that I’d read fifty pages!

So why? Why did Simple Truth grab me in a way the other hadn’t? The book opens with an ex-secret-service woman in a supremely pissed-off mood, trolling seedy areas of a big city looking for the most precarious, biggest dive she can find. When she entered the bar, she sat alone and ordered several drinks, which served to fuel her anger further. What she’s angry at, we don’t exactly know, but my curiosity was deeply aroused.

Our protagonist picked the most dangerous hulking badass in the place, went over, tapped him on the shoulder and when he turned around, proceeded to coldly and methodically beat the crap out of him. Her POV let us know that she’s fought men many times before, and she always won. Is she a male hater? If so, why?

After she weakened him a bit, rather than finishing him off, she threw a light kick and let him get a hold of her. In her POV, she dispassionately noted when he began to dominate the fight, slamming her body over the bar, punching her, bashing her head into the bar mirror, knocking a tooth out, and does more physical damage before she blacked out. The police arrive in time to save her life and arrest her.

While the protagonist was wining, she was almost disappointed that her target didn’t put up more of a fight, then once he takes the upper hand, there’s curiously no feelings of fear or anything from her. She’s not a particularly sympathetic character. So why did I even care if she lived or died? I can’t say that I did. What kept me turning the pages was the entire setup.

Why? Why would anybody go and deliberately get themselves beat up? Clearly she had a suicide wish, but there are better—easier ways to kill yourself. Less painful, less punitive ways to die. Apparently she wanted to, needed to, be physically punished. But why?

The woman had had been an Olympic medalist in rowing. That required great physical strength, talent, drive, and discipline. She’d been a secret service agent protecting the president. Clearly she was skilled with weapons, an observant, highly trained woman with a desire to serve her country. She was a protector. She had well-honed survival skills. She had an amazing partner she was fond of. What happened to her to make her want to die in such a physically punishing way at the hands of a degenerate? And so I read on.

With my literary story, I was mildly entertained—okay, I was mostly bored. With this commercial book I had to keep turning the pages, and two hundred and fifty pages later, I still have to keep reading ‘cause although I’ve learned more about her and her situation, I still can’t fathom a good guess as to why. And I’m a good guesser. But I’m stumped, so I keep reading and enjoying the unfolding journey.

With the literary story, I didn’t feel as if I was moving anywhere significant. There was no journey for me, and I guess that makes all the difference in the world in my enjoyment of a story. For me. I want to emphasize that this is my self analysis--no real reflection on the works, simply this reader's experience with them. To this reader, I don’t really care too terribly much about wonderful characters if they aren’t moving forward in an exciting journey that raises my curiosity or resonates with my spirit.

What about you? What does it for you in a book?


Saturday, August 2, 2008

Words of Wisdom

Words of Wisdom

"But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling, like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think. " –
Lord Byron

"I don't wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work."Pearl S. Buck

From CS Weekly;

Friday, August 1, 2008

Demons, Ghosts, and a Psychic Smackdown: An Interview with Stacia Kane

Stacia Kane began her writing career penning erotic romance novels. This year, her book Personal Demons is the first book in the Megan Chase series and Stacia's first urban fantasy. She grew up in the States but now resides in England, no engaging in hand-to-hand combat with hurricanes and man-sized flying roaches, but also bereft of tasty snacks and television series continuity. Alas!

What compelled you to make the leap from erotic romance novels to urban fantasy?

Hmm. Well, I think my erotic romances always leaned toward the uf side a bit anyway--although they were romances, absolutely, I always had a lot of action scenes and blood and fighting in there too (as do a lot of erotic romance writers.) But I realized along the way that, much as I enjoyed writing the romantic aspects, I liked the action stuff more. Basically I wanted to try something different, and actually found it really freeing. I didn't have to worry so much about romantic conflict or about making sure Greyson and Megan had solved all of their conflicts by the end of the book, which I loved. I think the end of Personal Demons makes it clear that although they really like each other, they have a long way to go and a lot to overcome before they can really be happy together--not least of which is the fact that neither of them is exactly comfortable talking about their feelings or trusting people, and neither likes being vulnerable (which causes Megan some real problems in the second book.)

I still love writing erotic romance too, but I admit I have more fun with the uf. :-)

I hear you're working on another UF series that's darker than the Personal Demons/Demon Inside series. Can you tell us what UF elements you're using or anything about the world you're creating?

It is much darker, yes, and it's about ghosts. It's set in a sort of post-apocalyptic world, where there was a ghost uprising and the ghosts killed a huge percentage of the world's population. Of course, since people turned to their religions and their religions couldn't help, this new world--run by the Church of Real Truth, a secular witchcraft-based "religion" (the only organization that is able to control the ghosts)--is entirely atheistic; it's one of their laws. (The witchcraft was great to write; since I've been studying the subject for years it's a very real magic system, no muttered chants to light candles or waving hands to make things float.) Because of the threat posed by the dead, the Church pays settlements to people whose homes are haunted. It's very rare for a haunting to occur, but people do try to fake it. Which is where my heroine comes in, Cesaria "Chess" Putnam. She works as a Debunker, investigating and usually disproving hauntings. It's a good job but unfortunately for Chess, she's also a drug addict, so most of her money goes to her dealer. When her latest case proves to be a real haunting and she doesn't get her bonus, her dealer offers to let her work off her debt by investigating the rumored haunting of an abandoned airport so he can smuggle drugs into it. Of course, nothing ever runs smoothly, and Chess is soon in even greater danger than she was in her lonely, troubled, abusive childhood. It's a very dark book, set in a very dark world, and I think it's the best thing I've ever written.

One of the emerging tropes of contemporary urban fantasy is a kick-ass heroine. Megan is a pretty badass psychic who doesn't really get down with her ass-kicking self, though she certainly can represent when she's avoiding attack zombies. Did you set out to make her a little different from the stock of ass kickers on the bookstore shelves?

Yes, absolutely. While I enjoy kick-ass heroines I really wanted to see someone more approachable, someone I could relate to a bit better and who perhaps readers could as well (that's also another reason Megan is thirty-one instead of twenty or whatever, although--this is so nerdy of me--she has a birthday coming up, as does Greyson. Hey, I know when they are, so why not tell people? Megan's is July 29 and Greyson's is August 13.) I wanted her to stand out for that reason and perhaps be someone readers who don't always relate to or enjoy supertough heroines could like--someone they'd want as a friend.

I really wanted to write someone who discovers this secret world and has to find her way in it, too, and the nature of her work and that discovery almost required that she be more resourceful than kick-assy. I love strong female characters; but I wanted her strength to come mostly from her mind.

It's throw-down time! Who'd win a psychic smackdown contest?

This is an awesome question! I love it!

Megan vs Sylvia Browne
Megan, totally. Sylvia Browne is good, I guess--I'm not that familiar with her although for a while it seemed she was on Montel Williams every other day--but I think Megan's abilities are more broad. Plus Megan's not afraid to fight dirty if she has to.

Sylvia Browne vs Miss Cleo
Sylvia Browne. Although Miss Cleo could beat Sylvia in a contest to see who has the worse Jamaican accent. (Jafaikan accent?)

Johnny Smith (Stephen King's Dead Zone character) vs Megan
Oh, now this is a tough one. I hate to say it but I think Johnny would win, since he sees more future stuff whereas Megan just tends to see the present. Plus I love The Dead Zone. I love the book (not crazy about the ending though), love the movie with Christopher Walken ("The gonna break!"), love the tv show, although I haven't watched it in ages because they only show it sporadically over here so we're hopelessly lost continuity-wise. I actually think Johnny and Megan would get along really well though.

Now for the demons:
Algaliarept (Kim Harrison's Rachel Morgan series) vs Greyson Dante
Hmm. Technically Algaliarept, because he's a different type of demon than Greyson. But then, Greyson would be sure to have figured out some angle where he would win. It's like how Batman always wins, because Batman spends hours obsessively planning how he would fight and beat anyone and everyone in the world. So I don't think it would actually come to a real fight; Greyson would find a way to avert it and win.

Dante Valentine (Lilith Saintcrow) vs Grey
Greyson. I love Lilith Saintcrow and think she's a fantastic writer, (although I've only read one book in this series, as I tend to avoid other demon books because I don't want to inadvertently borrow ideas), but Greyson could take Dante. In addition to the always-has-a-plan thing, there's the whole creates-fire-at-a-whim thing too. He probably would't fight her though. He'd just seduce her. I think he'd have a pretty good shot at that, although I don't know if Lilith would agree. :-)

You moved from Florida to England with your Brit husband, and you've written Cockney guard demons. Clearly you have a thing for accents. Who's got the sexier speech patterns - a South African surfer or an Irish rugby player?

I imagine the Irish rugby player. I like Irish accents. I've never heard a South African surfer speak so I can't say for sure, though.

If you had enough cash socked back to forget about the market and really do something freaky (freaky for *you* - like an experimental literary novel consisting entirely of the word llama in different languages and with different punctuation), what genres, characters, or themes would you experiment with?

Oh, gosh. Honestly, I probably wouldn't write much differently than I do now! I'm already exploring what I like and have some ideas for upcoming projects that will be quite a stretch for me as well. Having said that, though, I've always had this fantasy about writing a totally, self-consciously anarchronistic historical romance. Like, "Lord Huntington sighed and shifted in his chair. If only someone would invent television already, he thought. It would give him something to do while he waited for Lady Williams-Sonoma to return from her rounds of social

I've written a couple of historicals and when I do my fingers itch to add this sort of thing. So I've always thought that would be a kick, although in reality the thing would probably be stinky garbage.

What author is your guilty pleasure?

I don't really have any guilty pleasures. :-) I admit I enjoy all sorts of books. I have a terrible fondness for Jackie Collins, for example, and I'm not ashamed in the slightest. Who cares if it's actually good or not, it's FUN. I love "old school"-style romances (my medieval romance Black Dragon was my attempt at one of these, and I'm quite pleased with both it and the reviewer response) and I love 60's/70's gothics. One day I do really want to write one of those. I've been toying with an idea for one for years.

Do you have a writing soundtrack or do you prefer to scribe in silence? If you do listen to music, who inspires your urban fantasy muse?

Oh, goodness. It depends. I generally write without music--or rather, without adult music--because I have two young daughters and they're always around, and of course I need to be able to hear them if they're trying to kill each other. So usually in the background when I'm working is songs from Barney or something. I do enjoy writing with music, I just don't very often. I do load songs on my ipod to listen to in the car sometimes though, stuff meant to apply to whatever particular project I'm working on at the time. It's usually punk because that's what I listen to, but I add or remove stuff depending on what else I need; for my last project I got hold of some gangsta rap, for example, or I'll add more romantic stuff or whatever. It helps get me in the right frame of mind.

What was the last romance novel you read that sucked you in and made you forget your deadlines? What about the last UF novel?

The last romance that did that? Probably JR Ward's Lover Enshrined, which I liked although I guess it's not really technically a romance anymore. I like her books; again, I have fun reading them. And the last uf would be either Mark Henry's Happy Hour of the Damned or the ms of my friend Caitlin Kittredge's book Street Magic; the book's the first in a new series with St. Martin's Press and is amazing, but I'm not sure of the release date. I imagine sometime next year. My friend and crit partner also has a historical uf coming out next year with Tor, written as Annaliese Evans, and it's great.

You've said you believe that writers have to have some amount of natural ability, or no education will help them excel at the craft. What, for you, is the value of an education for writers? And what non-traditional sources would you recommend for a writer who wants to hone her skills?

The value of an education for a writer, beyond the basic spelling and grammar (which you can get by reading a lot; a copy of Elements of Style is a good thing to have too, though it's not absolutely necessary) is that it can broaden the mind. Of course, anything can broaden the mind, if it wants to be broadened, and I tend to think most writers naturally tend to wonder about things and gather information as a matter of course. I think for a writer life is a lot more valuable than education. (Of course, saying that I admit I'm green with envy that you get to study in such a cool program. I would have loved to do something like that; I still would.)

As for non-traditional sources...really the best recommendation I have there is the Absolute Write Water Cooler, an enormous online writing forum. There's a lot of published members; there's tons of information; there's forums for research and's an amazing place and definitely one worth spending time in. That is of course aside from reading everything you can get your hands on and writing as much as possible. Oh, and I also recommend working a shit job, one where you deal with the public, at least once, even if it's only for a month or so. You learn the most interesting things about human nature that way.

The popularity of the UF genre is often attributed to such television shows as Buffy and X-Files, shows with strong heroines. Do you think popular culture has paved the way for female characters to be equally bad-ass as the guys? Or do you think pop culture is a reflection of strong women becoming more visible within or more acceptable to our culture? Or...

Oh, gosh. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? I think it's a combination of the two, really, but also that it's neither. Certainly as strong women become more acceptable and visible, reader demand for those types of characters grows, which means more are published which feeds the demand further. But there's so many other factors in it as well. I think part of it is the simple wish fulfillment that always comes with reading a good book; we want to be these characters and do the things they do. I think there's a lack of truly strong role models in the world today which also means people are desperate for them, no matter where they're found. I think part of it is the pendulum swinging away from genres like chick-lit, which--and I mean no disrespect at all, because I genuinely enjoy chick-lit--isn't noted for having very tough, strong female leads. I think the great thing about uf is the problems, although often complicated, are direct; life or death. Whereas in real life it seems everything gets more complex by the minute and we face tons of problems we can't solve or even do much about, and it's tiring and we want to spend time in a world where evil can be vanquished, where there's hope.

Basically, I think we're all just looking for heroes, and the sex isn't as important except in that women--some women anyway--enjoy reading books with female leads, which means female heroes.

Coffee or tea? Cookies or biscuits?

Coffee, when I have to choose. I don't normally drink much of either. I don't like hot drinks (I also don't generally like cold food. I'm very boring that way.) I like caramel frappucinos, the ones with whipped cream and caramel sauce. Luckily the only decent Starbuck's in my area is over an hour away, as those things are loaded with calories. And cookies, I guess, although I'm not usually much for sweets. I don't snack a lot these days anyway; aside from being on a diet I just don't really like most of the snack food here.

Thanks so much, Stacia, for giving us a peek inside your world. I think it's fascinating to see the personality behind the books.

Look for Personal Demons from Juno Books, still on shelves. It's a fun read, full of hot demons, not-so-hot demons, Cockney demons, a cantankerous witch, a psychic tabloid journalist, skeezy guys, attack zombies, and some more demons. Demon Inside will be released in January 2009, and Stacia has plans for two more in the series.