Friday, August 27, 2010

Zombies on the rise!

I got to spend some time at Comic-Con in San Diego this summer, and though there were a lot of things about it I just didn't enjoy (too many people, not enough nerds), I ran into a lot of stuff I loved.

Like zombie pins. Lots of zombie pins. And a new comic book series to read - The Walking Dead. I'd seen these in the bookstore but hadn't picked it up because we were busy catching up on some other stories, and then I saw the trailer for the AMC TV series based on the comics.

Here's the trailer, which looks phenomenal:

I also sat in on a zombie panel with authors like Max Brooks, Jonathan Mayberry, and Seth Grahame-Smith, the dude who wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - a delightful, funny, personable guy. But -gasp- there were female authors up there, too. I could hardly believe our good fortune at seeing zombie (presumably horror genre) fiction represented by women.

One of those authors, Amelia Beamer, wrote The Loving Dead, in which the zombie affliction is a sexually transmitted disease. A fun read, though not my favorite zombie novel. Another was Mira Grant, author of Feed, which I started reading right before my semester began. I'll see if I can finish it at some point before December. I'd like to - so far, it's awesome.

And then there was Joan Frances Turner, an author whose novel (Dust) has not yet been released. Turner seemed to struggle with being in front of a ginormous audience, but she certainly performed better than I would have. During the weekend, I passed by the Ace/Roc table in the vendor hall and scored several excerpt booklets. Dust was in there. And WOW. Just wow. I absolutely cannot wait for this book's release. It's written from the perspective of a zombie, and it's completely engaging and different and wonderful. I very much look forward to reading it.

When I have some free time, I hope to read all the samplers I got from Ace and Roc during the weekend and report back here. There were a lot of urban fantasy stories, and (though I'm sure it was another publisher's sampler) I even have a booklet full of paranormal romance excerpts. I think we're going to see a fun series of releases in the next year.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

WTO Jennifer & Jodie!

Jason Pinter interviews women's fiction authors Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, concerning the NYT unfair--or shall I say, biased choice of fiction authors they review. Take a look!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Predicting the future?

Sometimes one has to be a realist. The economy, the environment, that continuing-to-narrow passageway of novels that make their way through committee, versus the success of many of my colleagues who are fearlessly paving the way onto digital. Not to mention the publishers who are reading the writing on the proverbial...if not physical...wall.

At RWA National a well-known and respected agent said that not much will change. The current best sellers will rise to the top of digital publishing, and that the majority of those trying to break in will remain mid-list or at the bottom.

But that's just it. As my critique partner is fond of saying, "Do they know, or do they think they know?"

Do our current gatekeepers really know what readers are craving? They claim their marketing departments have researched this thoroughly. Do they really have all the answers? I wouldn't bet my rapidly declining 401K on it ;)

On a larger scale, author and well-known blogger, J.A. Konrath makes some interesting predictions.

I ask you.... Do you know, or do you think you know?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Stacia Kane's City of Ghosts

One thing I've learned during the last 2+ years in school is the value of breaking down a novel in your genre to take a look at what works and what doesn't. Journaling this process has been an excellent way to absorb what each book has taught me about the craft and the art of writing. Unfortunately, more often than not, I feel uncomfortable posting what I've written on a public forum - even if I really enjoyed a book, I don't want my criticism sitting out there for someone else to read. What I found ridiculous in a book simply doesn't work for me and has no bearing on whether the author did something right or wrong.

However, when I find a book I truly love, one that engrosses me so completely that I forget to analyze it while I'm reading, I want the world to know about it.

Since Stacia Kane's Downside series - and most especially City of Ghosts - is one of those books, I decided to break down the novel here. I'll try to avoid spoilers and will white-out any text that might traipse too close to spoilage because I want everyone who enjoys urban fantasy to read these novels.

I have to confess, it's been a couple years since I read the first novel in this series, Unholy Ghosts, because Stacia was kind enough after I interviewed her here to offer me the read. I LOVED it. And because it was a pre-production version of the novel, I'm dying to read the version that went to print to see how they compare. I just haven't had the time and probably won't until I've graduated.

This series was released trilogy-style this summer, so they were available in rapid succession. That means y'all don't have to wait two years like I did to finish this first part of the Downside series. Lucky you!

A little background on the series for context:

The world Chess Putnam lives in is an alternate history, much like Kim Harrison's Rachel Morgan series (in which a tomato virus causes the preternatural beings in the world to make themselves known to humans) or Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse books (in which the Japanese release of synthetic blood allows the vampire population to out itself). The supernatural elements of Chess's world aren't hidden from anyone. Before the turn of the century, Haunted Week happened, and angry, bloodthirsty ghosts rose from the ground and murdered a good number of the population. Only the Church was able to corral ghosts back into the city of the dead. Because they saved and continue to protect society, they are the world's only government entity, espousing Truth and Fact over superstition and even some soft science. They employ Debunkers, of which Chess is one, to investigate claims of hauntings, and will offer a payment to someone living with a dangerous ghost or will offer a bonus to the Debunker if s/he can prove the haunting is faked.

The power of this series comes from a few different points:
  1. The series uses urban fantasy tropes. Namely, there's a kick ass heroine with magical abilities (she's a Churchwitch, so she knows how to use magic to get rid of ghosts), there was past sexual trauma, the city she lives in has a personality all its own, especially the Downside area, and there are supernatural baddies to contend with (both ghosts and witches who prefer to work with dark magic).
  2. The series turns the genre on its side by making the tropes seem cliche. One of the biggies here is that the traumatic childhood Chess had didn't turn her into the kick-ass heroine of this series. Actually, it's part of the massive issues she still has and the gateway into drug abuse. Chess is a functional addict who, in spite of her need to numb herself against the world, still kicks ass. She's powerful not because of but in spite of her past and present problems. This is very atypical of urban fantasy.
  3. There is a good mystery built into each book, and it's a good representation of that noir/mystery branch of UF. But there's also some solid paranormal romance-style relationship building. Kane nails this romance as it builds over the trilogy probably in large part thanks to her history as a romance writer. But Chess's relationships go to some pretty dark places, especially where her addiction is concerned. The romance that builds is solid and (spoiler alert - highlight to see)though the trilogy ends with the promise for a happy ending at some point, there's still enough left in the air by the end of City of Ghosts to wonder just what Chess and Terrible are going to have to overcome to earn that HEA(end spoiler). The point is that some UF is solid noir-style and some is solid PR-style. The Downside books effectively combine both, so the mystery story question and the romance story question are both strong enough to keep the reader engaged.
  4. The personal stakes are pretty big - usually based on money until her life is in danger, and the chance that her addiction will be discovered by her employer - but there are bigger stakes, too. Only one book has put the fate of the world in immediate jeopardy, and that's City of Ghosts. But the stakes to life and limb of people Chess likes or cares about, or the stakes to her continued freedom have seemed big enough to make the stories break out.
So what are some of the issues with the series? Well, it's definitely dark. Darker than a lot of UF out there. And some folks might not like the drug problem for the simple reason that it's there. Chess isn't interested in overcoming her addiction, and by the end of book 3, it's not interfering enough in her life to force her hand. The drugs aren't glorified. In fact, in Unholy Magic there's enough horror around the drugs to ensure nobody could ever make that claim. But some readers will balk at the mere presence of that much narcotic in one book. This is more a marketing "problem" that isn't a problem at all - just a consideration for who will make up the audience of the book.

What I learned from this series that I can apply to my own writing:
  1. Slang and a certain style of speaking in dialogue can work if done well (residents of Downside have very distinctive dialogue, as do elders and goodies in the Church), and that dialogue will add another layer to the world.
  2. Less can be more. There aren't three hundred kinds of beings in this world. In fact, City of Ghosts is the first time we've seen a human being become something other than magically inclined - or not. There are psychopomps and ghosts, but they aren't characters. They're essential to the world but not integral to character growth and plot progression (except when used as tools by other characters).
  3. A magic system with elements that are identifiable to the reader seems to offer more of a believability anchor. There's still suspension of disbelief, but it doesn't require the reader to make quite as much effort to sign on with that magic. Kane based her magical system on British Traditional Witchcraft, so the magic used is at least recognizable if not familiar.
  4. Wide spacing of the major stages of intimacy across the books makes for (spoiler alert - highlight to read)a HOT love scene. It's much more powerful when you've really rooted for characters to hook up but had honest doubts about whether it would happen.(end spoiler)
If I write a series, I will definitely study the Downside series again to see how Kane makes the stories stand powerfully alone and yet turn the overarching story into one that's really captivating.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wall Street Journal Article: Digital Publishing Shakes Up Traditional Book Industry

This is super important to all writers, please read.

Digital Publishing Shakes Up Traditional Book Industry.

Click the following to access the sent link:
Digital Self-Publishing Shakes Up Traditional Book Industry -

*This article can also be accessed if you copy and paste the entire address below into your web browser.

So what do you think?