Would you like to hear me read Long Black Curl to you this summer? Maybe ask me some questions in person?
One of the best perks about being a writer is that you get to meet other artists. Most of them are fellow writers, but I’m lucky enough to also count visual artists, filmmakers, and musicians among my friends. I’ve connected with many of them through art, either theirs or mine, as well as through social gatherings like conventions and workshops.
And sometimes, these connections turn into something you never expected.
In May of 2013, I first met the members of the band Tuatha Dea. Having written two novels about the Tufa, a race of musicians descended from Old World faeries and currently living in Appalachia, you can imagine my surprise at finding a band named after the fae (known in some circles as the “Tuatha De Danaan,” a.k.a. the “Children of Dana”), based in Appalachia (Gatlinburg, TN, to be precise), who perform the kind of Celtic-influenced music I always imagined my Tufa might play. There’s luck, then there’s serendipity, then there’s just plain astounding coincidence. I think meeting this band was a little bit of all three.
But that’s not the best thing. After reading my books, they came to me with an astounding proposition: they wanted to do an EP of original songs based on my Tufa series, titled Tufa Tales: Appalachian Fae.
I couldn’t turn down a chance to hear what this band–and they’re a great band–might do with this idea. So I gave the project my blessing. And I have no stake in this; the band is doing it entirely independently. I’m like everyone else, just waiting to hear what they come up with.
And this is where you can help. To finance the CD, they’re running an IndieGoGo campaign. As with all such crowd funding, any amount is helpful. So if you like my novels, and you ever wondered what a modern Tufa band might sound like, then please consider helping Tuatha Dea get this project off the ground.
You can find out more about the project here. Watch the video, learn about the band, and consider helping out.
Oh, and you should definitely go to ReverbNation and check out their music. In fact, the song “Hypocritical Mass,” that you can stream from this site, might just turn up in a future Tufa novel….
And here’s a rough live version of their song, “The Hum and the Shiver,” that will be on the CD.
There might be cooler things in the world than a band you really like, writing brand-new songs based on your novels. But at the moment, I can’t imagine what. Here’s Tuatha Dea premiering their original song, “The Hum and the Shiver.”
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.
If you’re familiar with my work, you should immediately know I mean the word heroine, not the concept of the female protagonist. I’ve written one fantasy novel (The Hum and the Shiver) and a series of short stories (The Firefly Witch) with strong, tough female main characters, and I try to make the women in my Eddie LaCrosse series the equal of that hero; in fact, I hope to take Eddie’s sidekick from Wake of the Bloody Angel, Jane Argo, and make her the hero of her own novel one day.
And that’s the word I like to use. “Hero” should be a genderless term.
If the story has a main character, that’s the protagonist. He or she can be weak, sniveling, backstabbing or dishonest, and still remain the protagonist. But to be a story’s hero, you need to be more. S/he strives to make him/herself and the world better; s/he faces his/her darkest fears and pushes past them. S/he can still fail–look at both To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch and Morgan from The Mists of Avalon–because it’s the striving that makes a character heroic.
Fantasy lends itself to heroes; in fact, there’s a subgenre called “heroic fantasy,” in which I proudly place Eddie LaCrosse (and I was tickled to have an Eddie story in volume 2 of the anthology series, The New Hero). But there’s nothing that requires that hero to be male, despite the cliche images associated with it. Sure, Conan is the first name that comes to mind when someone says “heroic fantasy,” but the Conan stories were written nearly a century ago. When he was adapted by Marvel Comics in the seventies, the creators knew that times had changed, took a minor character from an unrelated Robert E. Howard story, and created his female opposite, Red Sonja (whose latest comic incarnation will be written by Gail Simone).
And today, female heroes are everywhere. I’m part of the Facebook group The Heroic Fiction League, and female heroes are thick on the ground there, whether written by women (Violette Malan, who has her own take on this issue here) or men (Nathan Long even has his own Jane, Jane Carver of Waar).
And yes, these are heroes, not “heroines.” They don’t need their own, gender-specific term, because their gender is irrelevant. What matters is their strength of character, not their strength of their (literal or metaphorical) sword arm. As Jodie Foster says in the DVD commentary track on The Silence of the Lambs, ”I think there’s something very important about having a woman hero, who’s a true woman hero in the most archetypal sense of the word, and yet doesn’t have to clothe herself in men’s clothing. She doesn’t kill the dragon by being mightier, she actually does it because of her instincts, because of her brain, and because somehow she’s seen something, some detail, that other people have missed.”
So I vote we abandon the term “heroine” and start calling everyone who deserves it, male or female, a “hero.” Who’s with me?
Recently fan Laura Kannard asked me, “How has being from the South affected your writing?” I got a similar question during my recent appearance at Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ, so it’s been fresh on my mind. And it’s one of those questions for which there’s no easy answer.
It’s clear that the South certainly has more than its share of critically notable and successful writers. From grand master WIlliam Faulkner to current best sellers like John Grisham, to fellow genre writers like Cherie Priest, Sherrilyn Kenyon and Charlaine Harris, the South produces writers at a pretty fair rate. This contradicts Southerners’ illiterate reputation; Faulkner even said, “Everyone in the South has no time for reading because they are all too busy writing.” And most of us, whatever our genre, eventually find ourselves writing about the South.
But we all experience the South differently. The Souths of To Kill a Mockingbird, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and The Help are very different places, or at least very different facets of the same place. My own novels set in the South are not only different from these, but different from each other: I don’t see an easy way to reconcile the world of the Tufa novels (The Hum and the Shiver and Wisp of a Thing) with that of the Memphis vampire (Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood).
And in an odd quirk, many Southern writers invent fictional settings. Faulkner has his famous Yoknapatawpha County in Mississippi, and Charlaine Harris has Bon Temps in Renard Parish in Lousiana. This is not unique to Southern writers, of course, (I’m currently reading David Rhodes’ Driftless, set in the made-up Wisconsin town of Words), but perhaps because of the Southerners’ innate connection to their land (a topic for a whole other post), these examples seem somehow more vivid.
So, to get back to the question, how has my being from the South affected my writing? I’m aware of two very crucial ways.
One, it reminds me of the importance of prosaic personality details, especially in fantasy writing. Often, fantasy characters are separated from the real world of jobs, families, and especially, religion. You hardly ever see an epic hero who, when he’s not out epic-ing, has to do some humdrum job or even his part of the household chores (just imagine the many women Conan beds eventually yelling at him about leaving his skid-marked loin cloths scattered about). While there are plenty of politics and interfamilial treacheries to be found, the actual nature of relationships between and among family members (people who know they’re stuck with each other no matter what) are also rarely depicted. And religion is often a hypocritical force of repression and control, or else the defining quality of (usually) a supporting character; seldom do you see it as it happens in real life, as a loose influence on people who have probably been raised with its tenets but let them become guidelines rather than rules (or as the source of existential guilt when they fail to meet the standards).
Two, it’s inculcated me with the importance of the physical place to the stories that happen within it. The South is hot, damp and filled with wildlife, from bears to mosquitoes (I didn’t truly appreciate that last aspect until I moved to the Midwest, where the bug population is significantly less). Being hot all the time affects your mood; being sweaty makes your body move in certain distinctive ways (and often, not at all); and the constant influx of other life means, even in most cities, you never feel you’re that far from the country. In fact, except for Atlanta and possibly Birmingham, most Southern cities really don’t feel ‘urban’ in the way Chicago or New York do. When I’m creating a mythical place, whether contemporary, historical or fictional, I try to run it through this sort of filter to make sure I capture all the mundane details (mundanity?) of its reality.
I’m sure there are countless other ways being from the South affects my writing; I mean, we’re all affected by where our personalities were formed. But most of those influences can probably be better discerned by the reader than the writer, so I’ll leave them to other people to parse. The ones I mention above are the ones that I consciously make part of my process.
Thanks to Laura Kennard for the question!
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.
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 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”?
The 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.
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!
Fans of Wisp of a Thing and The Hum and the Shiver can now sip their morning Joe in a genuine replica of the coffee cups provided by Ms. Peggy Goins at her fine establishment, the Catamount Corner Motel, in Needsville, TN. Being a stylish Southern woman of a certain age, she’d never accuse a guest of stealing a coffee cup, so if one ends up missing, it must be a mistake, bless their hearts.
Order from Zazzle at this link.
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 need your help. Specifically, I need the help of my Appalachian-area fans.
I’m putting together the release trailer for Wisp of a Thing, completely different from the pre-release trailer you can see here. It’ll have all-new music, and all-new video. And it’s basically done. Except for one thing.
I need one shot of the mountains, something similar to the pictures below. More specifically, I need five seconds of scenic video, because believe me, there’s nothing in Wisconsin that can stand in for the actual Smokies. Sure, I could buy a clip from iStock or somewhere, but I hate to do that. It wouldn’t mesh with the hand-held style of everything else.
So here’s my deal: e-mail me (at firstname.lastname@example.org) five seconds of scenic video showing the mountains. It can be shot with a phone camera, if that’s what you’ve got, as long as it’s shot horizontally, and even from a moving car. If I use it in the trailer, you’ll get a Tufa Gift Pack that includes: