A Tale of Two Curls

Sometimes a song inspires a book. Sometimes a book inspires a song. And sometimes--okay, this is the only time I'm aware of this happening--a song inspires a book which inspires a song. There are two wonderful songs out there that share a title with my upcoming novel. Don't ask me to pick a favorite, because I can't. But I can tell Read more

A Radical Notion on Internet Misogyny

My friend, director Lexi Alexander (Punisher: War Zone and Green Street Hooligans, among others) has recently come under fire for her pro-file-sharing stance. You can read her argument, which is more nuanced than my simple summary (she's mainly against the criminalization of file-sharing), at this link. Needless to say, there's been some controversy. So much, in fact, that she's Read more

Out today: Wickedly Dangerous by Deborah Blake

One of the perks of my job is that I get asked to give blurbs to upcoming books, which means I also get to read them long before they come out. Usually such requests come from editors, or agents, or writers I've met at conferences, but occasionally they come from good friends who also happen to be good writers. Read more

Cruel to be Kind: Killing Off a Major Character

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 Read more

Interview with Lee Karr, author of The Making of Day of the Dead

In 1986, George A. Romero--one of my heroes--released the third film in his original "Living Dead" trilogy, Day of the Dead (following Night and Dawn). The previous two films were both classics, and popular successes. They were also about as different from each other as two films could be. So I, like every other horror fan, was eager to see Read more

No More Heroines

Posted on by Alex in Eddie LaCrosse, Hum and the Shiver, Wake of the Bloody Angel, writers, writing, writing advice | 11 Comments

red-sonjaI don’t like heroines.

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).

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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?

Steam from manure: working with details

Posted on by Alex in Eddie LaCrosse, Wake of the Bloody Angel, writers, writing, writing advice | 4 Comments

Recently on Facebook, fan Claudia Tucker asked me, “How do you decide what bits are superfluous even if it sets the ambience of the scene?”

Every writer’s approach, methods and habits are different, so keep that in mind when I describe mine. We all deal with the same issues, but ultimately there’s no right or wrong way to achieve these goals. The only thing that counts is what ends up on the page.

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My first drafts tend to be very short. For example, the first complete draft of my fourth Eddie LaCrosse novel, Wake of the Bloody Angel, was right at 200 double-spaced pages, whereas the final draft was 420. That first draft consisted of scenes that conveyed only the essential plot information and basic characterizations. Description was minimal, transitions were abrupt, atmosphere and ambience was pretty much nonexistent. The point was to create the narrative spine of the whole story.

BloodyAngel_comp1To continue with that skeletal metaphor, once the spine is complete, it’s time to add the ribs. Those are the secondary and supporting characters whose stories accent and echo those of the main characters. For example, in Wake, the hero Eddie LaCrosse is looking for another Eddie, the pirate Black Edward Tew; the more he discovers about his quarry, the more he finds parallels with himself (which was reflected in the book’s working title, The Two Eddies). He also works with another sword jockey (my term for a fantasy-world private detective), whose approach to the job makes Eddie think about his own career assumptions.

Each of these characters must also contribute something significant to the main plot, otherwise they don’t have a pressing reason to be in the story. And you, as the writer, need to hide all this careful construction so that the reader isn’t aware of it.

Once you’ve got the skeleton in place, it’s time to put on the muscle. In the case of my stories, the muscles are the emotional motivations and responses of the characters, based on what they’ve experienced in the past; in simpler terms, it’s the why. It’s very easy to have a hero* be brave when s/he faces the villain, but to make it resonate with the reader, you have to demonstrate not just how s/he’s brave, but why. Has s/he already lost everything, and feels s/he has nothing left to lose? Has s/he come to a new self-realization during the course of the story? Has s/he decided that the villain just has to be stopped, even at the cost of his/her life? Each of those potential sources of bravery makes the hero significantly different, and will also make readers experience him differently.

With that done, it’s time for the skin. Those are the things that bring the story to life in a mundane way. “Realism” is another term, and it’s incredibly important in science fiction, fantasy and horror. If you want people to accept your vampires, robots or elves, you have to establish their reality within the story by creating the kind of details that will support it.

The best example of this is a story I recall about either Norman Rockwell or Frederic Remington; I’m paraphrasing from memory, because I’ve been unable to track down a source. He was a young artist showing his teacher a painting he’d done of horses outside a saloon on a winter’s night. The teacher said, “How long have those horses been out there?”

“I don’t know. A while, I guess.”

“What do horses do when they’ve been standing outside for a while?”

So the artist added manure to the painting. When he showed it to his teacher, he was asked, “It’s cold outside, isn’t it?”

“Well, yes, it’s winter.”

“Fresh manure is warm, isn’t it?”

So he went back and added steam rising from the manure.

And that’s essentially what this “skin pass” is for: adding not just the manure, but the steam, and since we’re not just painting a picture, we have to add the smell and texture as well.

Of course, we’ve all read books where the author goes overboard on this, giving us not just the presence, smell and texture of the manure, but also the type of corn found in it, where that corn was grown, what the farmer was like and how he got along with his wife. The author has to know when enough is enough. Practice is the best way to learn this, and also keeping in mind one of Elmore Leonard’s rules for writing:

“Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.”

Thanks for the question, Claudia!

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*I don’t like the word “heroine.” A character is either the hero, or not; gender is irrelevant.

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.

Nurturing creativity and doing a job of work

Posted on by Alex in creativity, music, writers, writing, writing advice | 3 Comments

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.

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See? Either way. Like I said.

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.

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This is someone drawing because it’s fun.

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.

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Mellowin’ like Hendrix (see, he’s playing left-handed).

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!

Interview: filmmaker Lisa Stock

Posted on by Alex in creativity, faeries, filmmaking, interview, Lisa Stock, movies, pop culture, SyFy, Titania film, writers, writing, writing advice | 3 Comments

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.”

Filmmaker Lisa Stock

Filmmaker Lisa Stock

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.

Thanks to Lisa for taking the time to answer my questions. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and check out her website at InByTheEye.

Writer’s Day #9: C2E2 report

Posted on by Alex in conventions, writers, writing, writing advice | Leave a comment

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In my latest Writer’s Day video, I share some of my experiences at C2E2 in Chicago, by far the biggest convention I’ve ever attended.

 

 

When to Plan and When to Pants

Posted on by Alex in Jack Kerouac, writers, writing, writing advice | 1 Comment

In the commentary on her video collection, Stevie Nicks says that the vocal on her hit “I Can’t Wait” is the first take, and that she knew she nailed it as soon as she finished. Bob Seger was called in at the last minute to record “Shakedown” when Glenn Frey got laryngitis; he also rewrote the lyrics, and got his only Number One hit out of it. Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road in essentially one long session, on a roll of paper so he wouldn’t have to stop and change sheets, with no punctuation or paragraph breaks.

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What got me thinking about these three instances is a comment by British author DG Walker on her Twitter feed that said, “Planning is essential to the success of any undertaking and writing is no different.” Because I don’t neccesarily believe that.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying you should never plan. If you’re a professional (or aspire to be), you have to be able to impose structure on your creativity. But writers use the term “pantsing,” as in “by the seat of your pants,” to describe writing without an outline, and with no predetermined goal or end. It’s something that, usually, can only be done with manuscripts that aren’t contracted for, deadlined or otherwise due in a set amount of time, situations in which you pretty much have to plan. After all, pantsing can lead you far astray from what ultimately becomes your story, and revisions can be a madhouse of slicing and dicing. But it also leads you to some of your best ideas.

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There’s another element involved that isn’t mentioned in these examples, although it should be self-evident in the first two. At the time they recorded their songs, both Stevie Nicks and Bob Seger were long-time, successful musicians and songwriters. They had spent years honing the skills that brought them success and critical acclaim. And although he’d had no commercial success, Kerouac, at the time he wrote On the Road, had been working diligently to develop a unique narrative voice, something that had never existed before in American literature.

What does that mean for the rest of us, then?

When I teach writing seminars or classes, I use this example: a world-class athlete practices every day, so that s/he will be ready for the Big Game, which may only come once a year.  Similarly, a writer should write every day, so that s/he is ready for the Big Idea. A lot of that writing will be pantsing, chasing an idea that may or may not go anywhere. But that time is not wasted, because the writer is perfecting the technical skills and critical judgment that only come from practice.

Stevie Nicks could nail that song in one take because she’d been singing for years. Bob Seger could step in at the last minute, rewrite and record a song that became his only number-one hit, because he’d been a singer and songwriter for over a decade prior to that. Jack Kerouac had been practicing a new form of writing, a prose version of what was happening in jazz music, for years prior to writing On the Road.  All of these people, and pretty much every successful artist in any field, spends a lot of time pursuing ideas that, in themselves, go nowhere.  But they lead to other ideas that do.

Planning is important: writing every day, having a good physical space in which to write, and so forth. When you have a deadline, you may have to plan how many words or pages you need to finish a day in order to make it. But never abandon the luxury of unplanned creativity, of literally chasing the dream to see where it goes.

Or, to quote Stevie Nicks, “I sang it only once, and have never sung it since in the studio. Some vocals are magic and simply not able to beat. So I let go of it, as new to me as it was; but you know, now when I hear it on the radio, this incredible feeling comes over me, like something really incredible is about to happen.”

And you don’t want to deny yourself that sort of feeling.

I will not say I will not read your f*cking (manu)script

Posted on by Alex in authors, fans, writers, writing, writing advice | 5 Comments

An aspiring writer at Josh Olson’s door. “Please, suh, may I have some critique?”

WARNING: This post contains strong language. It actually has to, because…well, you’ll see.

Every so often, someone posts a link to this, a 2009 article by screenwriter Josh Olson bemoaning the fact that struggling writers ask him to read their work. If you haven’t, take a minute and read it. I’ll wait.

I’ll say this up front: if this article, in its content, tone, and execution, is an accurate representation of Olson’s personality, then I think he’s an asshole, because only an asshole would feel the need to pro-actively announce that he won’t read your fucking script. Only an asshole would think anyone cares.

However, the article keeps getting reposted, and some fairly accomplished people don’t feel that his self-righteousness self-pity is out of line. I do, and not just because I try not to be an asshole. I say it because, we should be better than that.

Who are ‘we?’ The ones lucky enough to do this for a living.

Last year, I filled in for a writer on a critique panel at a local convention. He’d been called away, and one of the other panelists asked me to take his spot. I did, and hopefully the writers who were brave enough to read things got some useful criticism. Afterwards, I was outside with the panelist who’d asked me to fill in, and two young women approached us. They apologized for missing the panel, and asked if we could still look at their submissions. My friend politely said no, that the panel was over and that, essentially, was that. I went along with it.

But I haven’t forgotten it, and I still feel bad about it, because it was the wrong thing to do. I have no doubt what the girls had to show us would have been pretty bad, but that’s not the point. The point is, I missed a chance to give back, to pay forward, to essentially behave in the exact opposite manner from Josh “I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script” Olson. Because unlike Olson, I remember what it was like to be on the other side of the line. I recall how it felt to have your nose pressed to the glass.

Recently author Pat Cardigan reposted Olson’s article on Facebook, and in the comments legendary author Jane Yolen defended Olson’s attitude, relating some pretty awful tales of people approaching her, one even at her husband’s funeral. I think we can all agree that that’s reprehensible behavior, but even if it is, does that mean we should be assholes back?* Does that mean we should announce to everyone, even people who haven’t asked, that we won’t read their fucking script because we are, as Laurence Olivier once claimed about himself, too fucking grand?

Sure, if you’re pushy and obnoxious, I’ll turn you down. If I’m busy with my own stuff, I’ll turn you down. If my kids need my attention, or I have a prior commitment, I’ll turn you down. What I won’t do is brag about how I’m turning you down before you even ask. And most importantly, I’ll try not be an asshole when I do it, no matter how obnoxious you are. Why? Because there are enough assholes in the world.

That’s the whole point of this, my whole plea to the Josh Olsons out there: you don’t have to be an asshole about things.

And that is something all writers, with the exception of Harlan Ellison, should be able to do.

*Just to be clear, I’m not calling Jane Yolen an asshole. Not at all. I sat beside her in the audience of the very first convention panel I ever attended, before I’d been published myself, and she was delightfully friendly. And truthfully, if you’re so ill-mannered that you approach someone at a funeral, you deserve what you get.

The Girl on the Cover

Posted on by Alex in cover art, Eddie LaCrosse, pirates, Wake of the Bloody Angel, writers, writing, writing advice | 8 Comments

This post is about cover art, and specifically the way characters are portrayed in it.

I want to say up front, I’m not being critical of my own covers. A cover is designed to make potential readers check out the book; once they do, it becomes the writer’s responsibility to keep them interested. It goes without saying that often the covers don’t depict the characters as the author sees them, and over time, even the publisher’s idea of what a character looks like can dramatically change:

The original rather slap-happy Conan…

…and the grim Conan we know now.

When I was writing Wake of the Bloody Angel, I introduced a new, major character, Jane Argo. She’s a sword jockey like Eddie, but she’s also a former pirate hunter, and before that, a pirate herself. Here’s how I describe her, in Eddie’s voice:

She was my height, busty and wide-hipped but with a wasp-narrow waist. Her broad shoulders were as muscular as a galley slave’s, and she wore a large ring on every finger. Her hair fell past her shoulders, and only the faint streaks of gray and slightly deeper smile lines indicated she was older than she sounded.

One day I stumbled across this picture of musician Ginger Doss,* and realized this was pretty much exactly how I saw Jane in my head.

The publisher, or rather artist Larry Rostant, who’s done my last three covers, saw her this way.

 

To be fair, Mr. Rostant may never have never read the book, which is not an essential part of his job description. And again, it’s a great cover illustration as far as its function goes, which is to induce someone to pick up the book: it has atmosphere, sexiness and style. On its own, it’s a beautiful image. But I’ll leave it to you, the reader, to decide what this dichotomy represents. In professional publishing, the author has virtually no say-so in the cover. It’s decided by marketers, whose job it is to create an image that will attract attention. And certainly the slender redhead with the no-nonsense scowl does that (as several male readers have informed me).

But here’s the thing: one reason I wrote Jane as a physically big woman, with visible muscles and a hint of grey in her hair, was to break away from the idea of the “butt-kicking waif,” a trope that really annoys me. Much like the whole movie Sucker Punch, the BKW is a way to disguise male fantasy objects behind the mask of alleged female empowerment. Buffy is the prime example, maybe even the originator, but it’s become the default setting for SF and fantasy heroines by creators who want to court the Buffy demographic (and who miss the point behind Buffy entirely). So I wanted to react against that, to show a woman who is both as intelligent as the hero, but also maybe a little stronger, physically. And to have none of that make her any less attractive.

The reviews, thankfully, have noticed that. Almost all of them mention Jane, and my favorite comment so far is this one :

Jane’s an unusual character in that she’s the muscle of the operation. Bledsoe lets her be tough without ever questioning her ability to be so. There’s never a comment by another character that suggests she’s strong for a girl [emphasis in the original].

I have a hard time seeing the woman on the cover fitting that description. She’s beautiful, certainly. She’s got a great expression, too. She fully fits into the overall image. But as with Eddie, I wonder if a more visually accurate presentation would make any difference in sales. And if so…in which direction?

*Ms. Doss knows that she was my image of Jane Argo. Thankfully, she’s delighted.

Guest blog: Cyrus Webb on interviewing authors

Posted on by Alex in guest blog, writers, writing, writing advice | 4 Comments

Radio host Cyrus Webb

I’ve been a guest on the Conversations online radio show twice, and both times have been a blast. Host Cyrus Webb interviews not only authors but musicians, sports figures, musicians and anyone he finds interesting. I asked him to write a bit about what makes a good guest, and how an author should prepare for a radio interview.

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Getting a book published has to be one of the great achievements of someone who loves to write. They have labored with their body of work for some time, been involved in the editing process and then put it out for the world to enjoy. Having it available is one thing. Letting people know about it is quite another.

The internet has done a great deal to help authors publicize their work in various forms, but there is nothing like having someone on the outside share the message of the author and their work. This is where the media can be beneficial. Setting up an interview to discuss what you have written and how others can get it can be an important step to spreading the word. The key is to be both prepared and make sure that you do your part to make it a success.

Reaching out to the press can seem daunting, but I have found that just as authors want to share their work the press is looking for stories to feature. There are many ways to make sure that you get noticed and get attention. If you are looking to be featured locally on the radio it can be as easy as contacting the station and pitching yourself and your book. I have found that this works best if you can tie it into something that is already considered newsworthy in your area or that gives an angle that will both get the attention of the station and its audience.

If you are looking to reach a larger audience, once again the internet can be invaluable. There are thousands of internet radio shows out there. The key is finding those that will fit you and your book and that will allow you to present yourself in the best light.

Let’s say that you’ve either found a show on your own that you are interested in or that you are contacted by someone interested in interviewing you. That is only the beginning. You need to make sure that you are prepared to use whatever amount of time you have to get the important aspects of yourself and your book out there. Preparation is the key. Know the show. Know the host and something about their interviewing style. Most importantly make sure they know something about you. This will ensure that there is a real give and take during the interview.

Some talk shows like to have prepared questions for the guest. Others, like myself, prefer a more free-flowing conversation. Make sure you know that type of information before the interview, and that the needed information is provided.

During the interview make sure to answer the questions that are asked, giving sharp but pithy responses. You don’t want to talk too much, but you definitely want to make sure you answer completely. Not everyone listening to the interview may buy the book initially, but make sure you get your website or how additional information can be found in the discussion. It can be as easy as saying. “On my website xyz.com I have an excerpt from the first chapter” or “If you visit my Facebook page each week I have a book giveaway”. This will let listeners know where you are and how they can find out more.

In the end, have fun with it! Interviews are one of the rewards for doing something great, and by publishing your book you have done just that. Make sure you are taking advantage of every opportunity to share your work with others, and it will make the journey that much more enjoyable.

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OFFICIAL BIO: Cyrus Webb is the President of Conversations Media Group, home of Conversations Book Club, Conversations Magazine and Conversations LIVE Radio Show. You can find out more information about him at www.cyruswebbpresents.com. He can be reached at cawebb4@juno.com.