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

The Manic Pixie Pout-Pout

Since I now have another two-year-old, I'm back to reading the simplest books to her at bedtime. Most of these books are innocuous, if occasionally incompetent (i.e., Big Snowman, Little Snowman, a Frozen tie-in book that probably takes longer to read than it did to write). A few are brilliant, such as Room on the Broom. But I'm here to talk Read more

The Omai Gods: the story behind the story

One of my favorite and oft-quoted bits of writerly advice comes from novelist/filmmaker Nicholas Meyer: "Art thrives on restriction." Meaning that if you don't have enough of something--usually money and/or time--you're forced to compensate by being creative. Here's a story that shows how that works, at least for me. I've never written steampunk. I honestly don't even know if it's a Read more

Guest post: Charlie Holmberg on Aqua Notes

Homegrown in Salt Lake City, Charlie Holmberg was raised a Trekkie with three sisters who also have boy names. She writes fantasy novels and does freelance editing on the side. She's a proud BYU alumna, plays the ukelele, and owns too many pairs of glasses. Her first novel, The Paper Magician, is now available. Follow her on Twitter for Read more

Cruel to be Kind: Killing Off a Major Character

Posted on by Alex in creativity, fantasy literature, Firefly Witch, heroes, Pagan, series, writers, writing | 1 Comment

Occasionally, because I’m not really that smart, I’ll put out a call for blog ideas. And sometimes I get one that’s so original there’s just no way to ignore it. So thanks to Claudia Tucker for asking:

“Have you ever been tempted to ‘kill’ your main characters off and start with a new Hero who might be a an offspring of the said hero, carying on where his/her parent left off?”

That has actually happened, but only once. And I’m telling you about it because ultimately, the idea went nowhere.

My first continuing character was Tanna Tully, “The Firefly Witch.” She was the protagonist of the first short story I wrote after deciding to make writing a priority back in 1995; that story, “The Chill in the Air Wakes the Ghosts Off the Ground,” was also the firsts short story I sold after that decision. Recently I’ve dug out those stories and spruced up some of them, and they’re available as three-story ebook chapbooks on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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Anytime you write about the same characters for a long time, you run into the problem of repetition. If you’ve followed a literary series that runs for more than ten books, you know what I’m talking about. The same mind, working in the same milieu, simply has a finite number of stories to tell. Repetition, and worse, boredom, are inevitable, and if the creator is bored, then the reader will be, too.

So in an attempt to liven up the stories, I made Ry and Tanna parents. This, however, turned out to be a mere cosmetic change, and didn’t solve the immediate problem, which was that I’d simply run out of ideas for Tanna. Anything I came up with was just a retread of something I’d already done. So I wrote what I intended to be the final story, in which she nobly sacrificed herself.*

Then I had what I thought was a great idea: the adventures of Tanna’s daughter as a teen, struggling with her mother’s absence and her own heritage. The first story I attempted came out rather well, so I wrote more. But soon I realized there wasn’t enough originality in the idea to differentiate them from the original stories. I’d simply, to borrow a “Bewitched” reference, swapped Darrens.

So those stories went into the trunk, and the Firefly Witch went into hiatus. It wasn’t until many years later that, at my agent’s suggestion, I dug out the original stories for a new audience. And with the passage of time, and my own progress as a writer, I found I now had no shortage of new ideas for the character. So I’m glad I never “officially” killed her off, and the stories of her wayward daughter are consigned to the same alternate universe as X-Men: The Last Stand and that season of “Dallas” before Bobby reappeared in the shower.

Thanks for the great question, Claudia!

*These stories have never published, and so cannot be considered “canon.”  Ry and Tanna are still alive, happy, and happily childless.

7 Questions About My Most Recent Novel

Posted on by Alex in Eddie LaCrosse, fantasy literature, He Drank and Saw the Spider, writers, writing | 1 Comment

Okay, I was supposed to do this on Monday, but it got away from me. Thanks to Lucy Jane Bledsoe for tagging me in this, and to Melissa Olson and Deborah Blake for agreeing to be tagged for next Monday. Here are seven questions about my most recent book:

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1. What is the name of your character?

Eddie LaCrosse.

2. When and where is the story set?

In two bordering kingdoms, Altura and Mahnoma.

3. What should we know about him/her?

He’s a sword jockey, which is the equivalent of a private eye in his medieval-ish world. As a young man he did some terrible things, and now he tries very hard to make up for them by doing what’s right. He has a girlfriend, Liz, who is equally tough and smart.

4. What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

Sixteen years prior to the main action, he rescued a baby girl from danger and left her with a kindly farm family. Now, fate brings him back into her life, and once again she needs his help, with the danger now coming from a possibly insane king, a mysterious sorceress and a giant, semi-human monster.

5. What is the personal goal of the character?

To live up to his word to protect Isadora.

6. What is the title of this novel, and can we read more about it?

He Drank, and Saw the Spider. You can find out about it at my website, alexbledsoe.com. You can also check out the Goodreads reviews here.

7. When was the book published?

January 2014, from Tor/Macmillan. Also available in unabridged audio from Blackstone.

New Writer’s Day Video

Posted on by Alex in biography, fantasy literature, fiction, Firefly Witch, Pagan, Reunion, series, Seventies, short stories, tennessee, video trailer, witchcraft, writing | 1 Comment

It’s been a while since I posted here; life’s been a bit overwhelming. But now I’ve got something new to share.

Cunning Women Front Cover FINAL 1000 Pixels

Over the past weekend I attended a combined reunion of my old college newspaper staff and fraternity.  It gave me the chance to go around Martin, TN and shoot some video of the real locations that inspired those in my Firefly Witch stories.  I hope you enjoy this little three-minute tour.

 

 

New novel: Sword Sisters

Posted on by Alex in fantasy literature, Red Reaper, writers, writing | 5 Comments

So my latest novel, Sword Sisters, is about to be released.

Art by Xing Xin

Art by Xing Xin

If you’ve been following me, you’ve seen me post about co-writing a prequel to the film The Legend of the Red Reaper with that movie’s writer/director/star, Tara Cardinal. You can read about my motivation for doing so here.

And now, it’s done. Sword Sisters: A Red Reaper Novel is about to be published by Rogue Blades Entertainment, who also published Writing Fantasy Heroes, which included an essay by me. So they know the genre pretty well.

The main character is a half-human, half-Demon teenage girl named Aella, who struggles with the same things most adolescents do: family, school, boys, and friends. It’s told in her voice, which means I had to write it from the perspective of a sixteen-year-old girl. As you can imagine, that’s not exactly my default inner voice, but it turned out to be surprisingly easy. The trick, if you can call it that, is simply to surrender to the logic of the character. It’s either something Aella would say/do/feel, or it’s not; gender is really irrelevant, as is age.

My co-writer Tara Cardinal in character as Aella, from Legend of the Red Reaper.

My co-writer Tara Cardinal in character as Aella, from Legend of the Red Reaper.

This is also my first time working in someone else’s mythology, unless you count my flirtation with Charles Dickens in “A Ghost, and a Chance,” one of the stories in my Time of the Season ebook collection. Tara created a whole world for her film, with its own mythology, theology and history. Before I started, I assumed my ideas would butt up against hers constantly, but actually the opposite happened. Much like writing the character, writing the world was simply a matter of surrendering to its logic.

So how did we actually collaborate? Tara wrote a big chunk of the beginning, from which I extended an outline that we both signed off on. I picked up from the end of what she wrote, continuing the story in similar big chunks, which she would then revise. Again, I was worried that we would end up screaming at each other; after all, who was she to be changing what I wrote, I imagined myself thinking? But that never happened; any of the few things we disagreed on we hashed out with no acrimony. We each sort of accepted the other’s area of expertise: I was the full-time writer, and she was the world-builder, franchise supervisor and embodiment of the main character. If she said something wasn’t true to Aella, I had to accept it; after all, she is Aella.

Our working title was The Cave of Acherode, subsequently The Cave of Lurida Lumo (following a character’s name change). This was fine as a file name on our computers, but it didn’t really capture what the book was about, or jump out at you from a bookshelf. After the manuscript was completed and edited, we–me, Tara and the publisher–brainstormed and came up with something much punchier, and more true to the story: Sword Sisters.

So what is the book about? It’s about two young women who don’t fight over a boy, don’t sabotage each other, and work together to fight not just for themselves, but for others. It has monsters, action, touches of romance, and hopefully some good jokes.

And it’ll be available December 11, 2013.

Guest blog: Steve McHugh on Changing Times

Posted on by Alex in blog, fantasy literature, guest blog, writers, writing | 1 Comment

My friend novelist Melissa Olson put me on the track of Steve McHugh.  He’s the author of the Hellequin Chronicles series, about an immortal sorcerer who still battles evil in the modern day.  I asked him to talk a bit about how he chooses the flashback scenes for the novels, which jump back and forth through time, much like the film and TV series he mentions as an influence.–A.B. 

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Back in 1986 there was a film called Highlander. For those of you who haven’t seen it, just take my word for the awesomeness that was contained within that 90 mins. Apart from having Queen do the soundtrack and having a Frenchman play a Scotsman and a Scotsman play a Spaniard, the thing that stuck with me the most were the flashbacks. The main character, Connor Macleod (of the Clan Macleod) was a 500 year old Scottish warrior and the story followed his battle against an evil nemesis in 1980s New York. But throughout the story there were flashbacks to previous parts of his life, from the Highlands of Scotland to Nazi Germany.

McHugh_Crimes_Against_Magic_cvr_FINALI found it incredibly interesting that we got to see parts of his life throughout the ages. And then when the Highlander TV show started in ’92 (with Duncan Macleod) they kept the idea of each episode having flashbacks to the main characters 500+ life. So, when it came to write my own books, I knew I was going to use the idea. The main character, Nathan Garrett, is a 1600-year-old sorcerer, so that gave me a huge scope to add the flashback portions of his life into the book. I wanted the flashbacks to have a relevance to the storyline of the current time, be that introducing characters or situations that were still in the modern portion of the book. The hard part was figuring out what setting to use. Less than a quarter of the book would be set in the flashback sequences, but they still had to make sense and tie in with the modern story.

For Crimes Against Magic (the first book in the Hellequin Chronicles) it took me a while to work out the exact date that I wanted to use. I had the idea of setting it during the hundred years war in the 15th it down to the battle of Agincourt in 1415, but I didn’t want to use the battle itself as some would have noticed if there was a sorcerer flinging fire about the place. So after some research (and reading the wonderful Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell, I settled on the 1414 destruction of the city of Soissons. From there the flashback came pretty easily, as did having it sync up with the current story.

McHugh_Born_of_Hatred_cvr_FINALMy second book, Born of Hatred, was a little easier. I wanted to write it in the late 19th century in America. From there I just researched the country, getting closer and closer to the state that worked and eventually settling on Montana. At the time, Montana wasn’t part of the United States, so that gave me a few plot ideas and the managed to set the whole flashback in stone.

Book 3, With Silent Screams, isn’t out until next February, but it was the book that has given me the most trouble with the flashbacks. I originally had it down as being 1970s Wisconsin and even wrote it in that way, but over time it changed to 1970s Maine for various story reasons that just made sense.

I have several more books plotted out in the same series, and have already got ideas for the flashback parts for each one. Sometimes I think I’m just making my life harder for myself, but then I realize that I really do love writing the flashback parts and all the research that goes into making them engaging. Besides when you have a 1600 year old character to write, you might as well make use of his huge life to do things you could never do with a human character.

***

Thanks to Steve McHugh for sharing his process.  You can find him at his website, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Writer’s Day: A Visit to the Tufa Library

Posted on by Alex in fantasy literature, Hum and the Shiver, Tufa, Wisp of a Thing, writers, writing | 2 Comments

writer's day graphic

 

Recently I had the honor of being invited to Rugby, TN, to do a reading and signing as part of their Appalachian Writers series.  Rugby is the inspiration for Cricket* in the Tufa novels, and the real Thomas Hughes Library shows up as the Roy Howard Library.  Here’s a glimpse inside.

 

*because I don’t work any harder naming things than I have to.

Guest blog: Melissa Olson, author of Trail of Dead

Posted on by Alex in conventions, fantasy literature, giveaway, guest blog, writers, writing, writing advice | 5 Comments

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.

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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.

Author Melissa Olson

Author Melissa Olson

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.

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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.

What Does Revising Look Like?

Posted on by Alex in creativity, fantasy literature, movies, novel, Red Reaper, storytelling, writing | Leave a comment

 

editing

The photo above is a page from the in-progress Red Reaper novel I’m writing with Tara Cardinal. The print text* is the first draft. All the notes are corrections for the second draft (or first revision, if you prefer).

This passage had some interesting challenges. Tara wrote it before she turned it over to me. Since this story is being told in first person by the character Aella, the voice has to be consistent throughout, and my first job was to try to do that. Since Tara created this character and her world, she’s the final arbiter of what’s properly “Aella-ish,” but I’ve tried to find my way to the same voice without simply mimicking her writing style. After all, if I was just going to do that, she might as well write it all herself, which she could do quite handily if she didn’t also have to, oh, make movies like Scarlet Samurai: Incarnation.

At this stage, two things are foremost in my mind: clarity, and rhythm. Clarity is simply knowing what point you want to make with the scene or passage, and tweaking the words to reflect that. Rhythm is trickier. It’s about finding the story’s (and in this case, the character’s) natural voice. The best way to do that, especially when you’re doing something in first person, is to read it aloud. At points where you stumble over words, you’ll usually find that your rhythm is off. It’s as simple as that.

Scanner issues prevented me from producing this image in full color, but the corrections are done in red ink, just like they say you’re not supposed to do in school anymore because it might hurt someone’s feelings. One advantage of this, in conjunction with the use of such a small font*, is that it gives you a quick visual idea of how close you are to a final draft. When there’s lots of red on a page, you still have work to do. When there are only one or two red marks, and they’re for minor things like commas or single words, you know you’re close to the end.

So, this is what part of my process looks like. Keep in mind, though, that every author does it differently, and every author’s process is valid. The only thing that counts is what ends up on the final page, in front of a paying reader. How it gets there is almost beside the point. Which is the way it should be.

*Yes, it’s in 8 point Times New Roman. I’ve worked in that size since I had a job proofing legal contracts, and realized I could read 8 point type fairly easily (one of the few practical values of near-sightedness). It saves both paper and ink.

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WISP OF A THING Advance Trailer

Posted on by Alex in faeries, fantasy literature, fiction, folk music, folklore, Hum and the Shiver, Jennifer Goree, novel, series, Tor Books, Tufa, Wisp of a Thing | Leave a comment

As a special Valentine’s Day present to all the Tufa fans, here’s the advance trailer for Wisp of a Thing, including music by the first honorary Tufa, Jennifer Goree.

Enjoy, share, repost, and otherwise pass amongst yourselves.

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Revealing a New Project: the Red Reaper

Posted on by Alex in authors, conventions, creativity, criticism, Eddie LaCrosse, fantasy literature, fiction, gender roles, heroes, Kate Beckinsale, movies, novel, Red Reaper, Wake of the Bloody Angel, writers, writing | 1 Comment

Back in November of 2009, I stumbled across a teaser trailer for the fantasy film, The Legend of the Red Reaper. It promised to be an action-adventure fantasy, and starred an actress I’d never heard of at the time, Tara Cardinal. As I watched the trailer, I realized that whatever the standard fantasy tropes on display, this was also something new and compelling. Here’s part of what I wrote to Tara back then:

“One of the things that bothers me most about fantasy films is the persistent notion that wispy, willowy girls can stand up to large, large men in a physical confrontation. I’m all for strong women characters, but at some point you have to acknowledge the laws of biology and physics…In the trailer, you look like you can stand up to the male warriors. You’re not the size of a pipe cleaner, your arms aren’t sticks, and you’re not dressed like an S&M show refugee (not that there’s anything wrong with that). You’re depicted as a warrior, and from what the trailer shows, you behave like one.”

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If you’ve read this blog for very long (or endured one of my rants at a convention), you’ll know that one of my pet peeves is fantasy’s version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, namely the Ass-Kicking Waif. Buffy is probably the best known, but there’s also Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element, Summer Glau in Serenity, Scarlett Johansen in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers, Kate Beckinsale in Underworld, and so forth: all tiny, busty, girl-women who appear to have just graduated from high school. Individually these characters are valid within their worlds, and there are always justifications for them (supernatural power, science gone amok, etc.). Cumulatively, it seems like this is an excuse for male creators to have their feminist cake and eat it, too. So to speak.

For my own fantasy writing, I’ve been careful to avoid that. In my Eddie LaCrosse novels, I’ve featured women who are actual adults, and if they’re depicted as warriors, they have the physique for it: they’re tall, they’re visibly muscular, and they don’t need excuses like supernatural power. And to me, that doesn’t make them any less attractive. Check out Jane Argo in Wake of the Bloody Angel and decide for yourself if I did it well.

This is the long way around to my announcment that I’m writing a prequel novel to The Legend of the Red Reaper with its creator/star Tara Cardinal.

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Tentatively it’s titled, The Cave of Archerode: A Red Reaper Novel, but as always, that can change. This is a spec adventure simply because I like the material and admire its creator’s vision. It’s also new territory for me, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading about our progress.

Keep an eye out for more updates as we go. You can read an earlier interview I did with Red Reaper’s director here. And watch for the release of The Legend of the Red Reaper later this year.