One more day until the official release (in stores, online, on eBook platforms and on unabridged audio) of the second Tufa novel, Wisp of a Thing. Here’s a brand new trailer featuring new music, this time by James Travis, that focuses on a completely different aspect of the story. Hope you enjoy!
Longtime readers of this blog will remember Melissa Olson from our Indy Challenge blog swap. She’s visiting again to talk about her new novel, Trail of Dead, the follow-up to her debut, Dead Spots. At the end of the post, find out how to win a signed copy of Trail of Dead.
Hello, and welcome to my Trail of Dead blog tour! A big thank you to Alex for letting me commandeer his blog for the day to do this. Trail of Dead arrives in stores and on Amazon TODAY, and it is the sequel to my first novel, Dead Spots. Both books fall into the urban fantasy subgenre, and they both follow a young woman with an unusual ability: Scarlett Bernard is a null, a rare human who cancels out any and all magic in a given area around her. As you can imagine, Scarlett has a complicated relationship with the supernatural community.
If you’re interested in reading more about me and my work, please visit my website. You can also find links to the other blogs I’m putting out this week in honor of Trail of Dead’s release. There are going to be exclusive excerpts, book giveaways, and much more. Each blog will be different, except for these first two paragraphs, which you’ll see in all of them.
Since I’m stepping in to Alex’s blog today, however, I’d like to talk about something he and I have in common: access to a pretty great town. My books are set in Los Angeles, because I needed a biggish city as my backdrop, and because the main character’s lost, hollowed-out psyche is right at home in the City of Angels. But I make my own home in the city of Madison, just down the highway from Alex’s own habitat, Mount Horeb. We don’t have any trolls here, but we do have a lot of great qualities that make Madison a fantastic city for writers. Here are a few:
1. Coffee shops and then also more coffee shops
Some writers work best in dark and dead silence, others need special music and an ergonomic chair. Me, I prefer having the steady background noise of one of Madison’s many fine coffee shops. State Street, of course, has an abundance of locations, from Starbucks to Michelangelo’s (literally – Starbucks is at the campus end of State Street, and Michelangelo’s is near Capitol Square), but I’m also a fan of Einstein Bros Bagels, Manna Café, and when I can get to Monona, Java Cat. Any coffee shop that also features gelato gets Melissa’s stamp of approval.
2. School of Continuing Education
UW-Madison is famous for its top-notch degree programs, but I’m more of a fan of the School of Continuing Education, which has a bunch of very cool writing events that feature classes, workshops, panel discussions, meet-and-greets, and even agent pitch sessions. I sometimes think I learned more about writing here than I did getting my masters degree. If you’ve never written anything but would like to dip a toe in, or if you’re just starting to really hone your craft, I highly recommend checking out the programs.
3. The Con Family: WisCon, OddCon, and GeekCon
If you write, read, or play in any of the science fiction or fantasy subgenres, Madison has some fabulous conventions and conferences where you can interact with the like-minded. The activities at these events range from serious panel discussions on feminist influences on modern science fiction, to madcap attempts to beat each other with foam swords. Seriously. It’s that fun.
4. Frugal Muse & Company
I don’t have anything personal against big booksellers, but it makes me happy that I live in one of the few places that still has those elusive, increasingly rare creations: independent bookstores. Frugal Muse and A Room of One’s Own are particular favorites of mine, but there is also the Rainbow Book Cooperative, the University Bookstore (yep, they’re an indie, too), and coming later this month, Mystery to Me on Monroe Street. And of course, The Prairie Bookshop is just down the road in Mount Horeb. These places often promote local authors with reading and signing events, and they interact with the community in ways that you just can’t get anywhere else.
5. Library much?
I don’t know how other mid-sized cities run their libraries, but I can tell you from much personal experience that Madison’s library system is excellent. I love how you can reserve books from any of the many satellite libraries and have them delivered straight to the one closest to you. Each branch also provides a number of quiet places to work on your writing, flip through some writing magazines, or research your next project. I’ve been a library nerd my whole life, of course, but our libraries also make me proud to be a writer.
Thanks to Melissa for stopping by. Leave a comment below (on, say, why your home town is a great place for writers) to be entered for a chance to win a signed copy of Trail of Dead.
The “Bubba” is a creature of the American South, often misunderstood by those not from the region. I’ve known a half-dozen people whose preferred name was “Bubba,” and it’s been used as a term of endearment for older brothers since time immemorial. It’s fitting, then, that there’s a National Bubba Day to commemorate this.
The classic Bubba is best embodied by Cooter from The Dukes of Hazzard. He’s loyal, friendly, and handy with a car engine. He wears a baseball cap at all times, doesn’t shave on a regular basis and yet never fully commits to growing a beard. Do NOT, however, confuse him with:
Larry the Cable Guy is not a Bubba, in the same way Keanu Reeves is not an actor and anything Kardashian is not a human being. Larry is a faux Bubba: he takes the image and accoutrements of this noble Southern archetype and uses them for his own money-grubbing ends. He even had the temerity to replace the late Jim Varney, a man with true Bubba in his soul, in Cars 2. [NOTE: as K.C. points out in the comments below, LtCG voiced Mater in both Cars films; Jim Varney voiced Slinky the Dog in Toy Story 1 and 2, and was replaced by Blake Clark for Toy Story 3. Apparently I got my Pixars crossed. Still, I stand by my opinion of LtCG’s cultural legitimacy.] So avoid this pandering phony (he’s from Nebraska, after all) at all costs.
However, this is a real Bubba:
In fact, this is a Bubba on multiple levels. Buford Pusser was a real man, one of my Giants of West Tennessee, and he’s portrayed here by Joe Don Baker, a Texan who definitely has a full quota of Bubba in him.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate National Bubba Day than with a trilogy of films about this quintessential Bubba. So I’m giving away my DVD copies of Walking Tall, Part 2 Walking Tall and Walking Tall: The Final Chapter, along with signed copies of my novels The Girls with Games of Blood, which features a Pusser-esque Bubba character, and Wisp of a Thing, my latest Tufa story.
Just leave a comment here on my blog about your favorite Bubba (you know you have one) sometime before midnight on Sunday, June 9, to be entered for a chance to win.
And happy Bubba day to all the Bubbas!
Last week, stuck for ideas for upcoming blog posts, I put out the call for questions from fans. I got this one from poet Eileen Sullivan:
“In what ways do you think you nurtured your creativity as a child, wittingly or not? What remains of that life in your and your work? And in what ways do you seek to encourage and nurture creativity in your kids? How does this link with that open mind of play and childhood inform your writing and life today?”
Thanks, Eileen. I love simple questions.
I grew up in a town of 300 people, 200 of whom were related to me. That limits your dating options, if nothing else (or it certainly should). The street we lived on was finally paved when I was in junior high school. When I turned fourteen, some kids up the street burned down the school, which in hindsight was the death knell for a town that had literally nothing else going for it. So it wasn’t exactly a hotbed of the arts.
As a kid in this town who wore glasses (the big, thick plastic kind that were all the rage in the Seventies), liked to read, saw no particular reason to kill small animals and (lest I slight the importance of this) liked to read, I never really fit in with the good ol’ boy culture around me. But I was always, for lack of a better term, “creative.” I loved to draw. I loved listening to music (learning to play was never a real option). And for some inexplicable reason, reading led me to attempt writing.
Was I nurtured in this? Technically yes, I suppose. I wasn’t actively discouraged, at least. But there was nothing like the communities you can find online now, so I worked in isolation, encouraged by a couple of teachers and benignly tolerated by my family. I have no idea why I felt so driven to create, and to this day the origin of it confuses me as much as it did my parents. But I did get one thing out of it that’s stuck with me to this day: I’m self-motivated. I don’t need encouragement, although it’s certainly appreciated. But either way, I’ll write.
Now that I’m a father, particularly of boys, I’m aware of the danger of both not encouraging them, and over-encouraging. As I said above, I used to love to draw, and can still sketch a mean T-Rex. But I had a relative who, when she saw my interest, took it upon herself to turn me into an “artist.” What actually happened was that she killed any fun I’d gotten from art, and made it so that I never wanted to draw again.
So I’m very careful not to impose my desires on the boys. My oldest takes martial arts and theatrical acting classes; my youngest likes to build his own elaborate Lego spaceships. When they ask for my help, I try to do it in a way that lets them learn how to help themselves next time.
I suppose I am still tapped into that childhood well of creativity. Then again, who says creativity is a child-like quality? Our culture thinks of it that way, but I look at it as a job: I punch an unofficial clock every day, and management expects me to be creative. So I have to bring my “A” game, except it’s not a game. As John Ford said, it’s a job of work.
Hope that answers your question, Eileen. Thanks for asking!
When it was announced a few years ago that Joss Whedon would be doing the new Wonder Woman movie, I was of the unpopular opinion that he was dead wrong for it. My main reason was that, in all the shows he’s produced and scripts he’s written, he has yet to show he can write about anything other than boys and girls. Wonder Woman, as her name implies, is a woman: an adult. Whedon’s female characters, from Buffy to River to anyone you care to name, are girls. In my opinion.
Whedon’s take on Wonder Woman didn’t pan out. But ever since, when I’ve watched movies (especially genre ones), I’ve tried to notice if their female characters are actually adults, or stuck in wish-fulfillment girlhood (often those doing the “wishing” are male, but that’s another topic).
Recently my friend artist/filmmaker Lisa Stock (she did the epic trailer to my vampire novel Blood Groove) commented this topic. About her upcoming project Titania, she wrote, “The heroine in Hollywood movies often becomes a warrior, while still maintaining her purity and innocence. It’s unrealistic of course, but a hard balance when movies want their females characters to go all ‘Buffy’ during the big battle at the end of the story. I’m avoiding this in Titania for a number of reasons – first and foremost my heroine is a Woman and not a Girl.”
Me: So what, in your view, is the difference between a woman and a girl, character-wise? And why is this important?
Lisa: A woman doesn’t need to prove anything. She’s not figuring things out for the first time, she’s probably tackling them for the 20th time, so not as much surprises her, and she comes to the game with more knowledge of who she is. That doesn’t mean she has nothing to learn, but perhaps she draws more from past lessons and applies them with more focus and confidence.
In genre film and TV, there are few female characters who truly seem like adult women. In fact, only two come quickly to mind: Ripley from Aliens and Alison from Eureka. Who would you hold up as an example of a truly adult (in terms other than chronologically) female genre character?
On TV – I just started watching Continuum on SyFy. I like Kira. She’s a woman, seasoned in her career, and not impressed by the young punks. She’s smart, thinks things through and has patience. In film – I think that Vianne (Juliet Binoche) in Chocolat is my favorite character. She remains true to herself despite being shunned by the townsfolk, and blamed for catering to all their sins. Ultimately, she wins people over by her honesty – a good trait to have. Though that is more magic realism than high fantasy – my work tends to be more magic realism. Michelle Pfieffer has created some memorable fantasy characters, Isabeau from Ladyhawke comes to mind – a true lesson in patience and endurance. And she’s still my favorite Catwoman. ;) I love anything Angelica Houston touches, including Vivianne in The Mists of Avalon - which is a very women-centric story. Morgaine (Julianna Marguiles) is also a true woman to me, not so bothered by the small things, but tackling her larger journey. Particularly, in the end, when she holds on to and recognizes her own beliefs in the “new religion.” It’s their ability to adapt and at the same time stay true to themselves – rather than force change or boast of victory – that defines these characters as women for me.
How will Titania’s adulthood manifest in your film?
She’s already an adult. Like some of the characters I’ve mentioned above, she has a journey to complete. It’s not necessarily going to change who she is, but she’ll call upon all her resources from past experiences and mistakes to overcome her wounds – both physically and emotionally. She’s more in control of her emotions, she’s more introspective, she also has a good laugh at her own expense occasionally. Much like Vianne, she’s a fish out of water, and never sees a situation in which she needs to compromise her own beliefs or be swayed by someone else’s. Not that all girl characters do this – but I find more often than not, that girl’s are up against someone else. In Titania, she’s pretty much up against herself. Perhaps that’s the ultimate obstacle we all face, ourselves. If you figured that out before you were 40, you’re way ahead of me! LOL!
What advice do you have for creators, in all forms, about being aware of the difference between a woman and a girl?
Who is your character, not what age demographic is she? How would you speak to her if you were to meet on the street and start talking? Don’t generalize about either a woman or a girl. The best characters are the ones who are unpredictable and (even in fantasy) facing challenges we can relate to or want to see them succeed in. That has to come internally even if action is involved. Make them honest and they’ll live forever.
My friend Teresa Frohock, author of Miserere: An Autumn Tale (my review is here), asked me how the idea for naming Eddie LaCrosse’s swords came about. I thought this might be interesting to others as well.
First came the idea of writing the initial novel, The Sword-Edged Blonde, as if it were a 40s detective novel. This was after years–well, actually decades–of trying to tell the story as a traditional epic fantasy, and having it just not work. So, once I’d committed to this new voice, I looked for other aspects of the story that could reflect this.
Swords in fantasy are crucial. They’re not just weapons, they’re symbols of divine right, of kingship, of power itself. Look at Excalibur, the most famous mythical sword: not only does it confer kingship on whoever draws it, but only the right person can retrieve it from the stone (I riffed on this in Eddie’s Arthurian adventure, Dark Jenny, where the analogous weapon is called Belacrux).
There are plenty of others. Terry Brooks initiated his fantasy career with The Sword of Shannara. Bilbo Baggins (and later Frodo) wield a sword called Sting (originally part of a larger arsenal, but it went off on a solo career). And although none of the Jedi weapons have names, each one is an individual, crafted by its creator as a unique weapon specifically for them. (For even more examples, Wikipedia has a helpful list of fictional swords.)
The point is, swords stand large in fantasy, and I knew I had to acknowledge this. But if I was overlaying fantasy tropes with detective ones, I also knew I couldn’t treat my hero’s swords as legendary weapons. Philip Marlowe didn’t have a gun with a name; Lew Archer didn’t retrieve his pistol from a stone. Hell, even Sledge Hammer, whose love for his gun was far from platonic, didn’t call it by name.
Yet the obvious didn’t strike me until I found a clue in the most unlikely of places: a Leonardo DiCaprio film. Specifically, Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet.
In Act I, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s play, to stop a brawl Benvolio says, “Put up your swords; you know not what you do.” In the film, as he says this, there’s a cut to a close-up of the weapons.
And there was my answer. Swords were analogous to guns in Eddie’s world, therefore Eddie would probably have more than one, of different makes and models, each suited for a particular situation.
(Sure, the obvious analogy would’ve been guns=crossbows, but if you’ve seen First Knight, you know how goofy that actually looks.)
So in The Sword-Edged Blonde, I wrote this:
I opened the sword cabinet and took out my old Fireblade Warrior three-footer, the one with the narrow dagger hidden in the hilt. I had bigger swords, but this one wouldn’t attract attention and, since I’d filed the distinctive Fireblade monogram off the blade, it looked a lot more fragile and decrepit than it really was.
And in the upcoming He Drank, and Saw the Spider, I wrote this:
Ajax shook his head, then indicated my sword. “Is that a real Cillian Skirmisher?”
“The hilt is,” I said, and slowly drew it. “The blade’s from a Kingkiller Mark IV.”
“Really? I’ve never seen one, only the Mark III. Even a king’s bodyguard can’t afford the Mark IV.”
I handed it to him across the fire, hilt first. “See what you think.”
Ajax took it and felt the balance. “Nice. But why’d you combine them? If I had a Mark IV, I’d be showing it off.”
“What’s the worst thing about a Skirmisher?”
“The way the blade snaps if it’s parried by anything heavier.” Then he grinned. “And when they see that hilt….”
“Makes people overconfident,” I said. “I like it when my opponents are that way.”
So that’s where the idea came from, and a couple of examples of how I use it. Hope you’ve enjoyed this little bit of insight, and if there’s anything else you’d like to know about this or the worlds of any of my other books, feel free to drop me a line or leave a comment here or elsewhere.
As the release day for the second Tufa novel, Wisp of a Thing, approaches, you can now get the eBook of the first, The Hum and the Shiver, for only $2.99. It’s a limited-time offer, so hurry before supplies…oh, wait, it’s an eBook, they’ve got plenty. But the sale ends June 7, 2013!
I was honored to be the first contributor to this documentary Kickstarter project, and rather than attempt to convince you myself, I asked acclaimed author Dale Short, one of the people behind the film, to explain where the idea came from and how important it is. And please check out the video trailer at the end of his article and consider making a contribution.
We like to think of ourselves as rational people, in control of our destiny by judiciously making the decisions our daily lives consist of—each choice as clearly conspicuous as the pair of branching roads in the famous Robert Frost poem.
We can maintain this illusion pretty well until we start thinking back on how many of those significant branchings-off have struck us completely out of the blue, the results of pure chance that we never saw coming.
My own most recent example is a workshop I was asked to teach for an organization of professional writers/bloggers in the Birmingham, Ala. area. The topic was “Interviewing for Story,” and the group’s program chairman had a great idea: Why not invite a guinea pig…uh, guest…the members could interview afterward, to test our newfound skills?
Our guest was the pastor of a local church: a distinguished-looking white-haired gentleman in a business suit. His tone was friendly and approachable, and I settled in to hear whatever was par for the course, from someone of his profession and background.
That’s not what we got.
Rev. Lawton Higgs told us, in a matter-of-fact style, about a day in 1984 when a routine event changed his life: as new pastor of a large metropolitan church, he was always mindful of recruiting new members. One special focus of church growth was seeking out members of the community whose lives were “in transition”…a new neighborhood, a new job.
So when he saw a moving van at an apartment building near his church, he headed over to greet the newcomers. But mid-crosswalk he saw that the new family was black. His church was white. He stood there, emotionally torn.
Higgs “came face-to-face,” he recalls, “with my history, and my experience, and my struggles with all this ‘racial inclusiveness’ stuff, and my encounter with Martin King in seminary, and I was paralyzed there in the road.”
He says he realized that if he didn’t invite the new residents to church, “then God had no use for me and my ministry in Birmingham. I discovered that my beliefs were incompatible with God’s call to love one another.”
That was the day that the pastor became, as he puts it, “a recovering racist.” He’s since worked to found a multi-racial, multi-cultural church in a city still haunted by its civil rights past. He ministers to the homeless, and works daily as an advocate for the poor.
When our group of professional communicators had heard Higgs’ story, the auditorium was silent for a while. The old phrases “You could have heard a pin drop” and “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house” are sometimes overused nowadays, but in that instant they were unavoidable.
Before the day was out, another member of the writers’ group and I started formulating a plan to bring his story to a wider audience by writing and producing a documentary video about his experiences. With that in mind, we’ve just unveiled a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter to bring the project to fruition.
Though Higgs’ life-change as a “recovering racist” is decades old, we’ve found that the story is very much a contemporary one as well. In “walking the walk” of his beliefs, he’s at times a lightning rod for opponents in the community whose views on race and politics are more in keeping with the region’s Jim Crow era.
At a juncture in America’s history when a bitter election campaign has brought to the forefront the deep veins of religious intolerance and racism in our culture, we’re confident that the story of “A Recovering Racist” will be instructive, inspirational, and challenging to everyone who cares about social justice and a spirit of reconciliation.
I invite you to watch our three-minute trailer, share it freely with friends, and consider becoming a supporter of our documentary video.
And if anybody asks how you came to find out about the project, tell them that pure chance sent you.
“Rock and roll is a joke
and the joke is on
audience–who ever takes it for any more than that…”
Writing about music, as I’ve said before, is tricky. The ones who do it well–P.F. Kluge, Sheila Kay Adams, Lee Smith–take it very seriously. So it follows that writing a parody about music, one that’s simultaneously respectful and hilarious, is even trickier. Writing that parody about the greatest rock and roll band ever, the Beatles, is the greatest trick of all. Yet in 1978, a writer named Mark Shipper did it, in a novel called Paperback Writer, subtitled The Life and Times of the Beatles: The Spurious Chronicle of their Rise to Stardom, Their Triumphs and Disasters, Plus the Amazing Story of Their Ultimate Reunion.
The date of publication is significant. John Lennon was murdered in 1980; after that, any book like this would’ve seemed tacky, if not downright heartless. But in 1978, with Paul and John both still vital presences in the music world, it seemed reasonable to poke fun both at their excesses, and at the fans who would never let them forget their past.
And fun is most assuredly poked. I’m only going to mention a couple of the jokes, because I certainly don’t want to spoil it, but here are some examples:
Lennon proceeded to explain to the roomful of reporters that his statement about the Beatles being “bigger than Jesus” was misinterpreted.
“What I meant,” he said, “was that we are all taller than Jesus.”
“Oh, Jesus,” [Beatles manager Brian] Epstein said from the front row.
Or this bit, post-Beatles breakup, when Paul argues with his wife Linda about their group, Wings:
“What’s it gonna take for you to stay in the group, Linda?”
“You heard me. Top billing.”
“You mean Linda McCartney and Wings?”
And the book is filled with alternate lyrics to the best-known Beatles songs:
Mix it with milk
Goes down your throat
Smooth as silk
And this, the bridge for “A Day in the Life”:
Fell out of bed
Tried to get off the floor
So stayed on the floor
All day long
Finally, there are the extended scenes of alternate history, such as Lennon and McCartney getting stoned while writing a song with Bob Dylan, or meeting the Beach Boys and Donovan (“Don’t call me ‘Don!’”) during their meditation phase. And the novel climaxes with what must have seemed inevitable at the time: a Beatles reunion tour that doesn’t go quite as anyone expects:
This is a relatively easy to find book since it’s got a cult following, although as far as I know it’s been out of print since the early 80s. Author Mark Shipper, it appears, withdrew into willful obscurity and has never resurfaced. Still, if you’re a Beatles fan, or just a fan of music in general, you’ll probably enjoy this a lot. There’s real affection in the humor, and McCartney’s final line is something that we all know is true, but don’t like to admit:
“I guess,” McCartney said as he took his wife’s hand, “it’s because you can’t live in someone’s past and live in their future, too.”
Here are a couple of other bloggers talking about this book: