Seeing It a New Way

In my teen writing class at the Mount Horeb Public Library last week, we segued into discussing Catcher in the Rye, and one of my students made the following observation (which I'm paraphrasing): Some of my friends have said that, since the characters in the book were rich, Holden's problems weren't that significant. But in so many other books I've read, Read more

A True Story of Frog-Gigging and Disappointment

I wrote the following piece for a memoir class taught by Michelle Wildgen, best-selling author of Bread and Butter and You're Not You (soon to be a movie starring Hilary Swank). When I was a kid growing up in rural Tennessee, my dad determined that I would follow in his footsteps and leave a trail of dead small animals behind Read more

For Halloween, Try EXORCISMUS

Every year around Halloween I try to recommend a horror movie you might not have seen, something off the beaten path and all the better for it. You can read previous recommendations here and here. This year, I worried that I wouldn't find anything. Then I discovered the 2010 film, Exorcismus. No, I can't explain the title, either. Yes, it's an exorcism movie, Read more

The Great Rock and Roll Secret

Suppose the great rock single had flickered over the airways just once, on the night you had passed out in the back seat?  Probably not, but still...rock and roll has always had this sense of possibility.  --Dave Marsh, Born to Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story, page 93 I originally read the above quote in the 1980s, when the first edition of Read more

Review: The Making of Day of the Dead

When I heard there would be a book entirely about the making of George A. Romero's third zombie movie, Day of the Dead, I was surprised. The movie had not been a financial or critical success at the time, and while its reputation has risen since its 1985 release, it's still nowhere near as well-known as its predecessors, Night Read more

Three Questions on Writing

Posted on by Alex in Burn Me Deadly, Eddie LaCrosse, Hum and the Shiver, writers, writing | 2 Comments

Recently my friend Talis Kimberley, an amazing songwriter and musician, asked me a couple of questions I thought might be of more general interest. So I thought I’d answer them here.

1: What are you proudest of having written?

That’s got a couple of answers.

new in paperback!Every writer has, in his or her head, an ideal version of their book. It’s graceful, powerful, and affects the reader unlike any book written before or since. Unfortunately, what we put on paper is often far below these lofty goals. We have bad word choices, poor characterizations, awkward prose and other similar but unavoidable discrepancies. Simply, we never get it right. As Da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned,” and so we abandon our works when it seems we can do no more, or when deadlines arrive.

However, one time I almost got it right. I remember reading the page proofs for the second Eddie LaCrosse novel, Burn Me Deadly, and realizing about halfway through that this was exactly the book I had in my head. Now I’m not saying it’s a great, or terrible book; that’s for readers to decide. But I can say that it was the closest to that “ideal” version that I’ve ever gotten. And I’m proud of that.

THE HUM AND THE SHIVERThe second thing I’m proudest of is The Hum and the Shiver, because it was a first for me in several ways. It was my first fully contemporary novel that was not only set in the modern world, but dealt with modern issues. It was my first female protagonist. I used more of my own experiences in it than I’d ever done before. And I remain delighted and humbled by the response it continues to get from readers, two years after its release.

2. What have you read recently that made you think, “I wish I’d written that”?

dappermencvr1The most amazing thing a reader can experience–and it’s magnified if that reader is also a writer–is the realization that someone you know, a person you might’ve interacted with on a daily basis, has created something awe-inspiring. The most recent example of that was the graphic novel Return of the Dapper Men, drawn by Janet Lee and written by Jim McCann. Jim and I used to work together, and while I knew he was a writer, I had no idea he was capable of the delicacy, heart and imagination of this book. Not only do I wish I’d written it, I wish I knew Jim better back in the day so I could’ve learned some of his secrets.

3. Which parts of the process do you agonize over and which do you fly through?

That one’s easy, actually, because I deal with it every day. The hard part for me is always plotting. I generally don’t work from outlines: I just start writing and see where the characters take me. I’ll have a vague story structure in my head, but it’s malleable and often changes significantly through the process. Yet I admire writers who can concoct intricate plots that fall together with perfect precision by the end; they’re often not given much critical respect, but heck, even Raymond Chandler had to teach himself to plot by rewriting Erle Stanley Gardner.

Alas, his cat was no help.

Alas, his cat was no help.

The easiest thing is dialogue. I don’t claim any great talent, but for some reason I usually have no problem hearing my characters talk. Often my first drafts are simply page after page of dialogue that I go back and polish with attributions and description to make the scenes work. I don’t have the confidence to become another Elmore Leonard, who can write whole chapters with nothing but unattributed dialogue, yet he’s so good at it you’re never unclear about who’s speaking or where they are in relation to the other characters. But I do love writing characters talking to (or among) each other.

Thanks to Talis Kimberley for the prompt. If you have any other questions you’d like me to answer, leave a comment below and I’ll get to it as soon as I can!

The Next Big Thing blog tour

Posted on by Alex in authors, Burn Me Deadly, Dark Jenny, dragon, Eddie LaCrosse, fantasy literature, fiction, film noir, King Arthur, movies, novel, release date, Robert B. Parker, Shakespeare, Tor Books, Wake of the Bloody Angel, writers, writing | 3 Comments

My friend from the Heroic Fiction League on Facebook, Violette Malan, graciously invited me to participate in The Next Big Thing blog series. Each author answers the same set of questions, and passes them on to five more authors, who post their answers the following week and pass them on to five more authors, and so forth.

You’ll find Violette’s answers here, and my list of invited contributors at the bottom of this post. My answers begin right here.

What is your working title of your book?

It’s currently called He Drank, and Saw the Spider. I’m batting .500 in my initial titles making it to print (for example, Wake of the Bloody Angel was originally called The Two Eddies), so we’ll see how this one does. This time, my title is both a line from the book, and also a shout-out to the source material.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

It was inspired by The Winter’s Tale, one of Shakespeare’s last and most complex plays. It’s a genre-bending story of betrayal and reconciliation, and a real head-scratcher the first time you read or watch it. It’s best known for one of its stage directions: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”

My initial idea was, “What if Eddie was dropped into the Autolycus role in the plot?” The final book is considerably different, but that was the inspiration.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s sword-and-sorcery, but crossed with a healthy dollop of pulp detective fiction; “sword noir,” I guess. One reviewer called it, “Sam Spade with a sword.”

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’ve said elsewhere on this blog that the ideal casting for Eddie LaCrosse is Alien-era Tom Skerritt.

But otherwise, I prefer not to lock down the images of the characters. Each reader will have his or her own ideas, and I don’t want to get in the way of that. I’ll worry about it when an actual movie deal happens.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

As a young mercenary, Eddie LaCrosse saves an abandoned baby from a bear; sixteen years later, now a private sword jockey, he has to save her again, this time from a complex plot involving magic, murder and an insane king.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It will be published by Tor in 2014.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About eight months. A lot of that was research, reading up on Shakespeare, rereading his plays and internalizing a lot of Shakespearean scholarship. It may seem simple to take a plot or character from Shakespeare, but to do it justice you also have to understand what that character means, and how he or she functions in the play. For example, there’s a character loosely based on Caliban from The Tempest; Caliban has been used to represent everything from Irish bog people to a half-human fish monster to the plight of third-world citizens under Western occupation. If you’re going to put someone like him in your book, you have to decide what he represents for you, and how that affects the story and the other characters.

This is the same approach I’ve used for my other Eddie LaCrosse novels. Burn Me Deadly, for example, is about dragons, so I researched what people thought of them back when it was believed they really existed. Dragons were never simply animals, they were embodiments of beliefs and supernatural powers. If I wanted my dragons to carry that same weight of “believability,” I had to decide what they embodied in the world of my characters.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

My Eddie LaCrosse novels are always compared to Glenn Cook’s “Garrett, P.I.” novels and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. The influences I’m most conscious of are two Bobs: Robert E. Howard and Robert B. Parker.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

One of the consistencies of my Eddie LaCrosse series is that each book embraces a set of existing tropes; Dark Jenny, for example, is Arthurian at heart. In this one, I wanted to put Eddie into a Shakespearean story, so I looked for the best one to drop him into. I chose The Winter’s Tale because there’s a mystery at its heart.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s a fun and funny story. Eddie’s girlfriend Liz once again plays a major role, the first time since Burn Me Deadly. There’s action, suspense, magic and romance. There’s a mad king, a sorceress, and sheep. Lots of sheep.

Thanks to Violette for including me in this blog trail.  Now, here are my five awesome and talented writer friends who will be posting their answers next week.

Teresa Frohock, author of Miserere.

Kelly Barnhill, author of Iron Hearted Violet

Jen K. Blom, author of Possum Summer

Matt Forbeck, author of Amortals and Carpathia

Kelly McCullough (pending), author of Bared Blade and WebMage

The apocryphal soundtracks to some of my books

Posted on by Alex in Blood Groove, Burn Me Deadly, Firefly Witch, Memphis, music, novel, pirates, Uncategorized, Wake of the Bloody Angel, writing | Leave a comment

It’s no secret that music is a big part of many of my novels, from inspiring the titles to influencing the plots to being part of the story itself. I’m not alone in this, I’m sure. Recently my friends at Facebook’s Heroic Fiction League, Nathan Long and John R. Fultz, posted “playlists” of YouTube videos, songs that either their heroes would like, or that captured the mood of their books.

My playlist is a little different.  This is the music I wish would play when a reader first opens some of my books.

For my most recent novel, the Eddie LaCrosse pirate tale Wake of the Bloody Angel, I’d love it if readers were blasted with this upon cracking the covers:

 

 

For another Eddie LaCrosse tale, Burn Me Deadly, if you consider chapter one as a “teaser,” this would the perfect music to play between chapters one and two:

 

 

For Blood Groove, my tale of an Old World vampire unleashed in the Seventies, I’d begin with this under chapter one:

 

 

Then, at the moment you finished chapter one:

 

 

And finally, the theme for my Firefly Witch e-book chapbooks, the tune the main characters Ry and Tanna would call “their song” and that, in a perfect world, would play whenever you called it up on your e-reader of choice:

 

 

(I know, it’s the Atlanta Rhythm Section version and not the original Classics IV, but technically this is the first version I ever heard, and about half the Atlanta Rhythm Section was made up of former members of the Classics IV, so it’s not as heretical as it might seem.)

Any suggestions for some of my other books?

 

Writers Day #4

Posted on by Alex in Burn Me Deadly, dragon, Firefly Witch, Tufa, writers, writing | Leave a comment

 

This is the fourth of a series of videos showing how a typical writer (i.e., me) works through the day.  This one is about research, something you can often do when real life intrudes on your actual writing time.

Of eddies, witches and titles

Posted on by Alex in Burn Me Deadly, Eddie LaCrosse, fantasy literature, film noir, Hammer Studios, marketing, movies, novel, series, titles, Tor Books, trivia, Wake of the Bloody Angel, writing | 2 Comments

The very manly paperback cover.

It’s no secret that the Eddie LaCrosse novels owe as much to mystery as they do fantasy, especially the hardboiled pulps and films noir of the 30s and 40s. So when I wrote Wake of the Bloody Angel, I knew its title would have to be a play on a title from the mystery genre, much as Burn Me Deadly echoes Kiss Me Deadly.

With that in mind, I turned in the manuscript under the title The Two Eddies, a play on the (unfairly, IMO) much-maligned sequel to Chinatown, The Two Jakes. Not only were there two characters named Eddie (my hero, and the pirate Black Edward Tew), but I liked that the term “eddy” also meant a current of water. My publisher, however, felt the title was too low-key, and that we needed something that would better jump out at a potential reader. I’m no elitist: I understand the purpose of marketing, and I’m generally sympathetic to it. Further, my publisher didn’t say, “We’re changing the title,” they asked me for another title, which is mutually respectful. And, luckily, I had one ready.

There aren’t that many nautical noirs. In film there’s The Phantom Ship, the first film from Britain’s legendary Hammer Studios, based on the Marie Celeste and starring a fading Bela Lugosi. There’s Wreck of the Mary Deare, with a young Charlton Heston and an old Gary Cooper. And there’s The Ghost Ship, part of Val Lewton’s extraordinary series at RKO that also included Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie. 

Then there’s Wake of the Red Witch.

John Wayne as Captain Ralls.

Based on a novel by Garland Roark, it was made into a 1949 film starring John Wayne before he became codified as a Western star. He plays a captain who scuttles the titular Red Witch for reasons that go back years, and involve a girl (although she’s not a femme fatale; more of a naif fatale, if that’s a legitimate term). Its flashback structure resembles that of Out of the Past. And it has one of Wayne’s best introductions, when he’s discovered lashed to a piece of wood, drifting among circling sharks, and the film’s villain Sydney rescues him.

SYDNEY: What’s your name?
WAYNE: Ralls.
SYDNEY: Your full name?
WAYNE: Captain Ralls.

There’s nothing in the plot of Wake of the Red Witch that really influenced Wake of the Bloody Angel, but the concept of a wake, like that of an eddy, has a double meaning: both the waves left by a ship’s passage, and a memorial service for someone who’s died. And so, relatively painlessly, The Two Eddies became Wake of the Bloody Angel.

(Trivia: the mechanical octopus used in the film was “borrowed” [i.e., stolen] by Ed Wood’s crew for Bride of the Monster, as depicted in Tim Burton’s exquisite ode to perseverance, Ed Wood.)

Burn Me Deadly paperback, Wake of the Bloody Angel teaser

Posted on by Alex in Burn Me Deadly, Eddie LaCrosse, paperback | 1 Comment

Today the mass market paperback of Burn Me Deadly, with new cover art by Larry Rostant, hits stores. It also includes the first three chapters (how’s THAT for a tease?) of my next Eddie LaCrosse book, Wake of the Bloody Angel. And to celebrate that, here’s the teaser trailer for the new book, to give you a little taste of what’s in store this summer.

new in paperback!

Coming this summer!

 

To Avoid Shark-Jumping

Posted on by Alex in Burn Me Deadly, Dark Jenny, Eddie LaCrosse, Sword-Edged Blonde, writers, writing | 3 Comments

The writer trying not to repeat himself.

As I await the page proofs for Eddie LaCrosse IV (Wake of the Bloody Angel) and begin the first draft of Eddie LaCrosse V (so far, Eddie LaCrosse V), it occurred to me that every book in the series begins with two concepts, one of which is the same each time, while the other is very different.  If you’re out there and considering writing a series, this might be a useful thought process to explain.

First, the concept that’s the same each time: how do I make this book different from the last, and from all the other books?  Some elements simply have to remain the same, after all: the first-person narration, the hero solving a mystery, the anachronistic tone.  But there are things that can be varied, such as supporting characters, location, and timeline.

For example, the first novel, The Sword-Edged Blonde, took place over the main character’s entire lifetime, flashing back to his teenage years and his young adulthood. It also traveled all over his world, from the small town of Neceda to the sprawling seaport of Boscobel.  Since at the time I wrote it, I had no idea that it would begin a series, I swung for the fences, packing in all the ideas I had for the character and his world.  It was an epic, in everything but word count.

In contrast, the second one, Burn Me Deadly, deliberately took place in one locale and in linear time, and included lots of characters Eddie knew well.  The third, Dark Jenny, was a tale told over a winter’s evening about something that happened years before, set in a locale where Eddie knows no one.  And Wake of the Bloody Angel, as the title implies, takes place at sea, again in linear time, and with Eddie having his first true sidekick.

But each book also has a core idea, a central thesis that provides the narrative litmus test for what works and what doesn’t.  In The Sword-Edged Blonde it was the Fleetwood Mac song, “Rhiannon”: anything that didn’t help evoke the same atmosphere as the song (and I realize that the song means different things to different people, so any given reader may go “huh?” at hearing this) was tossed, and since I nursed this story for years, it went down a lot of blind alleys.  Having that core idea helped me eventually figure out the right direction for it.

Once I established this methodology, subsequent books became easier.  In fact, each one could be broken down to a single term that guided the writing of both the narrative and the overall atmosphere.  Burn Me Deadly: dragons=atomic weapons.  Dark Jenny: King Arthur.  Wake of the Bloody Angel: Pirates.  Eddie LaCrosse V: the Wi–wait, I can’t tell you that yet.

This combination of having a core idea and trying not to repeat the form of previous stories helps keep the Eddie LaCrosse novels different and exciting, at least for the writer.  I’ve read my share of series where the author simply stopped trying to be different and essentially rewrote the same story over and over, whether from boredom, lack of ideas, or just to give the fans what they ostensibly want.  I don’t want to do that with the Eddie LaCrosse novels.  Since they’re all about the same character doing the same job in the same world, some similarities are inevitable.  But my job as the writer is to make the rest of the elements as fresh and different as I can each time out.

How do your favorite series succeed (or fail) in keeping themselves fresh and interesting?

New cover art for Burn Me Deadly

Posted on by Alex in Burn Me Deadly, cover art, Eddie LaCrosse | 5 Comments

Here’s the mass market paperback cover art for Burn Me Deadly, from the same artist who did Dark Jenny. What do you think?

(Don’t yet have the official release date, but I’ll post it ASAP.)

Guest-blogging at RomCon

Posted on by Alex in Burn Me Deadly, Eddie LaCrosse, guest blog | 1 Comment

Over at RomCon, I’m guest blogging about Eddie and Liz’s relationship in Burn Me Deadly.

RELEASE DAY! (whew…)

Posted on by Alex in Burn Me Deadly, Eddie LaCrosse, release date | 4 Comments

Today is the official release day for BURN ME DEADLY.

If you’ve pre-ordered it, you’re awesome. If you buy it today, you’re only slightly less awesome. If you buy it eventually, you’re still on the awesome scale.

And the winner of the “Name a drink at Angelina’s Tavern” contest is…PARANOYD, for suggesting The Rogue’s Stiletto, also known as the Back-Stabber (your profile doesn’t have an e-mail address, so contact me with your mailing address).

And now, back to work on Dark Jenny. See you soon!