Interview with Melanie Stone and Nicola Posener from Mythica

Two weeks ago I reviewed Mythica: A Quest for Heroes, the first in a projected five-film epic fantasy series.  As well as being a great little film, it was notable for having two female characters as the driving forces of the story, with neither sidetracked into any obligatory romance.  The two actresses who played these roles, Melanie Stone and Read more

Interview: the writers of Carmilla

  Carmilla, J. Sheridan LeFanu's 1871 novella that predates Bram Stoker's Dracula, is a seminal work of genre fiction.  It introduces the idea of the lesbian vampire, something that later writers would expand into its own genre (check out Hammer's The Vampire Lovers for a fairly faithful, if overtly sexed-up, version).  It's also surprisingly contemporary in its writing style.  So Read more

Movie Review: Mythica, A Quest for Heroes

Back in 2011, I stumbled on Arrowstorm Entertainment's Dawn of the Dragonslayer, a low-budget fantasy epic that had the look of a much more expensive film. But what really got my attention was the care given to the performances: leads Richard McWilliams and Nicola Posener really dug into their characters, and director Anne Black gave them the time to Read more

Dramatics Interreptus

My younger son turns seven in about a month, and the other day I realized that I was about that age when I realized just how important stories were to me. My parents left me to stay with friends of the family for an afternoon; I have no memory why. But while I was there, I started watching the TV Read more

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

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.

FW front cover

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.

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.

 

 

Writing on demand for MY BLOODY VALENTINE

Posted on by Alex in anthology, eBook sale, Firefly Witch, short stories, writers, writing | 2 Comments

Every writer has at least one weakness, something they don’t do as well as they’d like. They know it, and their readers know it. Raymond Chandler knew he didn’t do plots well, which is why the structures of his novels a) don’t bear up to scrutiny, and b) are often cribbed from his previous short stories. Of course, what he did do well, he did so well that no one minded what he couldn’t do. As critic Robin Wood famously said, “who cares who killed Owen Taylor?”*

My problem has always been writing on demand.

By that, I mean responding when someone says, “Write a story about dogs,” or, “Write a story set in Montana.” My own skills don’t work that way; I need time to puzzle over ideas and let them develop organically. I have no problem writing about dogs, or Montana, or even dogs in Montana. But I need time to work my way into it on my own.

Which is why, whenever I get asked to contribute to an anthology, I try to do it. Because the only way over these sticking points is through them.

My Bloody Valentine - Box Set -500 pixels

When the editors of My Bloody Valentine said they needed a story a) of about 15,000 words, b) about love, and c) with the opening words, “Love hurts,” I was intrigued, and a little intimidated. When they told me how quickly they needed it, I was a lot intimidated.

Beyond the problems I mentioned above, there was a third issue: I’d never written anything that clocked in at 15,000 words. My short stories average between 3-7K words, and my novels at around 90K. 50K is novella territory, new ground for me. As Stephen King says, the novella is “an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic.”

But the folks doing the anthology were the same one who publish my “Firefly Witch” stories, so I felt I owed them an honest shot. And I decided that I’d make this a Firefly Witch story as well, so that at least I’d be working with characters I knew.

I thought about the stories I’d written about these characters, and what aspects of them I hadn’t explored so far. I realized I’d often mentioned that Tanna taught college, but hadn’t really shown her functioning as a teacher. With that as a starting point, I wrote about an investigation into a haunting that doesn’t go as planned, and as I wrote, the rest of the characters filled out the plot and gave me plenty of material to work with. It was a near thing–I think I hit the deadline on the day, and my word count was just…barely…15K, but it worked. The editors liked it and picked it for the anthology.

And you can read that story, “Tantrabobus,” along with seven other stories from a variety of writers and genres, in the ebook anthology My Bloody Valentine, available now from Story Vault. You can get it from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. for only $2.99 for a limited time. And if you do pick it up, please leave an honest review at the site of your choice!

*for the record, it’s a plot point from The Big Sleep, and it’s never really clear.  The only explanation that even works is that Taylor committed suicide, which makes about as much sense in context as it does right here.

A Halloween treat from the Bledsoe family

Posted on by Alex in Blood Groove, family, Firefly Witch, Girls with Games of Blood, Halloween, music, video trailer | 3 Comments

Here’s a little treat…or is it a trick?…from us to you. Hope you enjoy!

Just in time for Halloween: new Firefly Witch stories!

Posted on by Alex in eBook sale, Firefly Witch, short stories, writing | Leave a comment

Three new stories featuring Tanna Tully, a.k.a. Lady Firefly, have arrived just in time for the quintessential witches’ holiday, Halloween (or Samhain, if you want to be technical about it). Here’s a bit about The Book of Cunning Women.

Cunning Women Front Cover FINAL 1000 Pixels

In “The Mischief Shades,” she investigates a seemingly light-hearted haunting borne of a ghastly tragedy that hits surprisingly close to home; in “Tourist Trap,” a friend’s suicide attempt exposes something long buried in a local park; and in “The Book of Cunning Women,” an artifact that could change history has to be pried from the selfish grasp of a popular novelist in the heart of Southern Gothic country, New Orleans.

This collection is available on Kindle, and will soon be on Nook, Kobe and all the other usual platforms.

And if you like it, please leave an honest review at the site of your choice.

 

Hearing Voices

Posted on by Alex in Eddie LaCrosse, Firefly Witch, writers, writing | Leave a comment

A while back, Facebook friend Diana May-Waldman asked me, “When you write, do you ever get stuck in character for a little while?” My initial response was an instantaneous, “no,” but then I got to thinking about it.

I write two series in first person: my Eddie LaCrosse novels, and the Firefly Witch short stories. When you write in first person, you’re telling the story in a particular character’s voice, not your own. It may be similar–I’m not sure how you could avoid that, especially if you’re writing a series–but even if it’s identical to the way you speak to yourself in your head, to the reader is becomes the inner voice of your character, and you have to be aware of that.

Tom Skerritt. the ideal image of Eddie LaCrosse

Tom Skerritt. the ideal image of Eddie LaCrosse

After five novels and a handful of short stories, it’s now incredibly easy for me to slip into Eddie LaCrosse’s voice. And it’s a fun voice: he’s cynical, which means he’s got a great sense of humor, and he’s seen everything, so it takes a lot to impress him. Part of the enjoyment of writing the series is thinking of new things just to see how he’ll react. And because he’s the viewpoint character, it also means that I never have to worry about how to present something: everything comes through his perceptions. If he doesn’t experience it, it must not be too important to the story.

Nancy Travis, my original idea of Tanna Tully.

Nancy Travis, my original idea of Tanna Tully.

Ry Tully, my other first-person character, is different in a lot of crucial ways. First, he’s not the main character of his stories: his wife Tanna is. In the same way Watson chronicles Sherlock Holmes, Ry gives us Tanna’s adventures from an outsider’s perspective. He’s a down-to-earth small-town newspaper editor, while she’s witch, a psychic and a college professor. And the reasons for this are probably the same ones that led Conan Doyle to his approach:  Tanna often knows things that would kill the suspense if we were inside her head. Far more importantly, Ry represents the reader in a way Tanna never could. He’s amazed, astounded, and terrified by what they encounter, while Tanna seldom is; and when she is, it amazes/astounds/terrifies Ry even more.

(Another interesting thing about Ry: I have no “ideal” image of him in my head. I’ve always envisioned Alien-era Tom Skerritt as Eddie, and Nancy Travis as Tanna, but when I thought about who best visually represented Ry, I came up blank. Perhaps it’s because I originally wrote about Eddie in third-person, and saw him objectively, before deciding to shift to his perspective, whereas Ry has always been written in first person, so I’ve always looked out from his eyes.)

I’ve been writing about Ry Tully almost as long as I have Eddie LaCrosse, and both reflect the hard-boiled influences of Hammett, Chandler and Parker, all of whom wrote stories with cynical, tough, first-person narrators. And there are undeniable similarities between these two characters. But in my head, they’re never the same, and only occasionally do I find myself saying, “Whoops, that’s something Ry would say, not Eddie,” or vice versa.

So I’ll have to modify my original answer to, “Rarely.” But thanks, Diana, for making me think about it in ways I never have. It’s always good to pick apart your inner process and make sure you’re not sabotaging yourself.

The origin of character names: the Firefly Witch

Posted on by Alex in Firefly Witch, writers, writing | Leave a comment

Tanna Tully, aka the Firefly Witch, was my first continuing character. I had the term “firefly witch” banging around in my head ever since I first learned that witchcraft was actually religion called Wicca. That would’ve been sometime in the 80s, but it wasn’t until the 90s that I tried to create a character around the idea.

 

Because she was my first, her creation was a lot more haphazard and, in a sense, crude than some of my later characters. My choices were rather arbitrary: she had red hair because a girl I knew in college had red hair, for example. She was flirtatious because I like girls who are that way, and she had the unselfconscious sexuality I also find attractive. But I also made her a tenured college professor and a third-degree Wiccan priestess, positions you don’t attain without having your act together.

Her name Tanna, or more properly Tanita, came from an obvious late-80s source: musician Tanita Tikaram, whose “Twist in My Sobriety” was then in heavy rotation, and always sounded like a throaty whisper from a strange and unusual place. I probably, although I can’t say for certain, modeled the Tanna/Tanita diminutive after the Indy/Indiana from Raider of the Lost Ark; I say “probably,” because I was heavily into modeling things based on influences back then, as opposed to pulling them organically from the characters or the stories. Her maiden name, Woicistikoviski (woy-CHISS-tick-ko-VISS-ki) is entirely made up, a collection of nonsense syllables pounded into a name.  Again, I wouldn’t use that random approach again; the names in my novel The Hum and the Shiver, for example, have definite origins within the material itself (which I’ll explain in future post).

Her husband, Ry, was actually not named after his sense of humor (badda-BING!). Instead he was named after Ry Cooder, a musician whose soundtracks for director Walter Hill are some of my favorites. I wanted him to have a simple surname to contrast with Tanna’s, so it became Tully, which also nice alliteration for her character. And make no mistake, although these stories are mostly told from Ry’s perspective, Tanna is definitely the main character.

And the obviousness continues. They live in a town called Weakleyville, in Martin County located in Tennessee’s northwest corner. I went to college in Martin, in Weakley County, located in the same geographic place. Ry works for the Weakleyville Press newspaper.  I worked for the Weakley County Press newspaper. The University of Tennessee at Martin (UTM) is located there; Tanna teaches at West Tennessee University (WesTN).

The one place name I didn’t change was Cadillac’s bar. There is still a Cadillac’s in Martin, as least as of the last time I drove through. Cadillac himself is no longer with us, and I have no idea who owns or runs it now, but it’s vivid in my memory. It was probably the last time that I felt truly at home with a big group of people.

So as these explanations show, at the time I initially thought up the Firefly Witch, I was drawing more on the literal side of my own life than I’ve done since. I don’t know that it’s any better or worse to do it this way, but to me it now feels more shallow than digging in to find what the core concepts of something are, then creating reference points in a world where they apply. That said, I love the Firefly Witch and her world, and I’m enjoying revisiting them as I put these little story collections out.

Find out where you can pick up the Firefly Witch e-chapbooks here.

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.

Announcing Time of the Season

Posted on by Alex in anthology, Blood Groove, cover art, eBook sale, fantasy literature, Firefly Witch, folk music, Free Download, Hum and the Shiver, music, Pagan, short stories, tennessee, Tufa, witchcraft | 2 Comments

So this year I’m trying something new: through the good folks at Story Vault, I’m releasing a three-story ebook chapbook for the holidays.

It includes:

“Cold Wind,” a Tufa story that updates us on Bronwyn and Craig from The Hum and the Shiver.

“A Ghost, and a Chance,” in which Sir Francis Colby from Blood Groove crosses paths with the most famous Christmas ghosts of all.

“Time of the Season,” a New Year’s story about a very special visitor to the home of Firefly Witch Tanna Tully.

There’s also a special gift: a free download of the song “Cold Wind” by Andrew Brasfield.

I’ll let you know when it’s available, but in the meantime, here’s the cover: