Monday, January 31, 2011

Caffeinated Monday: Late Check-in, Updates

Hello all, and thanks to everyone for the check-ins and words of encouragement during The Weekend from Hell. The worst is over, even though both children are still home from school. This marks day five of at least one child at home who's needed pretty constant watching. I finally just moved my computer and whirlwind storm of papers to the dining room table and tried to work and play nurse at the same time.

It's kind of hard to do that. I just made myself more and more frustrated. I can't wait to move back to my real studio space. Funny how space can become associated with creativity. I even realized how much I need my funny little writing rituals: the songs I play, the candles I light, the way I bang my head in despair before I finally get down to business.

Oh, hell. I just had an epic coughing fit. No. Way. Ignoring it.

So, little writing done this week. A couple thousand words earlier in the week. I did get some planning done on a novella I want to release soon. I've had it on the back burner for a while, and some of the details just kind of came to me. That was cool. It was nice to focus on something that's not my WIP. Visiting has been interesting. Not done as much as I might have, but then, what I have done has been extensive. I need to rein that in for a bit and focus on my own writing. Some of the topics floating around on some of the blogs I read and respect a whole lot have a to of people up in arms, including me if I let them, and I really don't have the headspace for it. Roll on, controversy.

My book is picking up steam on Barnes and Noble, of all places. It's thrilling. I wish I knew why so I could bottle it and do it on Amazon, where my book seems to be just chillin' and relaxin', but that's ok. I'll take all the Nook love I can get. Go B&N! It just reminds me that I'm a writer, not a crusader, and I have another book or several to turn out. Hey, I like how that sounds.

I'm a writer, not a crusader.

The next time I find myself fuming for a solid week because someone called me and all my Indie pub friends names, I'm going to make myself write that fifty times. Ok, maybe twenty.

Coughing! Ignore! Ignore!

Most of my writer friends are reporting good sales figures and everyone seems to be in a mellow mood on most corners of the Internet. A very good start to '11! Let's see... what else about ROW80... epic fail, back on track for this week... nope, that's about it. Readings and reviews? Yep, on track with that. Hope everyone has a really productive February!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Random Thursday: Claire Farrell's "Thirst", Moondoggies & Grits

Hello and Happy Random Thursday! I have three items for consideration this week because they're rather longish. Each of the three makes me very happy, which is why I didn't whittle them down and add in another two I don't have as much enthusiam for. They would have known, and turned against me, you see.  Note: The song is set to play automatically, so just shut if off if you don't want to hear. But it's a good song, possibly full of subliminal messages telling you how sexy and incredible you are, and you don't want to miss that, do you?

1.  Shrimp and grits: Just what the heck is it? Besides delicious, obviously. Many people have expressed an interest in this dish since I posted about my shrimp and grits induced coma. The basic ingredient is also the most mysterious: if you do not live in the South and have never had grits, the very word "grit" may conjure unpleasant imagery for you. Understandable, but unfounded. Grits are like rice, except they come from corn. They are fairly tasteless until you do something to them. Cheese grits are one of my favorites. The coma-inducing dish I had included: cheese grits, spiced shrimp, cajun sausage, some kind of roux gravy, green onions, diced tomatoes, and mystery spices. It is humble Southern cuisine, found in the most surprising places. Mine came from Ezell's Catfish Cabin.
Warning: Grits are something of a specialty item and should not be taken seriously if cooked by a novice. Nothing is worse than bad grits.

2.  I rarely listen to whole albums these days. Granted, I have this writerly quirk that drives me to anchor a particular song to a scene, emotion, or character I'm writing. Then nothing will do but to play that particular song over and over and over whenever that character/emotion/scene demands. Yes, the neighbors hate me for this. Yes, my husband deserves some kind of award for putting up with it. It's not just that, though. I've made this point before: medium influences media. I'm convinced it has something to do with the way albums are produced these days, which is mostly for a digital, buy-the-song-you-want market. Not that this is a bad thing. Far from it. It's just different. At any rate, whatever the reason, I rarely find the kind of cohesive album that flows, one song into another, as whole albums should. Moondoggies' newest release Tidelands is one of these rare finds. I was doubly happy to unearth not just one of my favorite songs from this album, but to discover it had been illustrated by an artist in their community and turned into a music video that actually tells a charming little story. Great art and great music and great storytelling and the neighbors get a reprieve from mono-song hell. Viva Tidelands!

The Moondoggies - Empress of the North from Hardly Art on Vimeo.

3. Link to Clarie Farrell's Thirst :

I loved this book. It's a refreshing take on what's proving to be one of the most enduring yet supple tropes of the late 20th/ early 21st centuries: the monster with a morality crisis. I really liked Claire Farrell's take on the vampire: Ava is alternately vulnerable, funny, and deadly, perhaps most of all to herself. The plot was totally unique, too. Another writer would take the "problem" of having a six-foot attractive blonde completely enthralled with the novel's protagonist in another more predictable direction. Instead, we get marvelously blurred lines between good and evil, hero and villain. Ava can't get far enough away from her completely willing worshipper. Instead, she's attracted to the worst possible choice: the man with the stake who seems intent on killing her. Since she wants to hold on to her humanity more than her vampire half, perhaps this isn't a surprising choice. I, like Ava, love bad boys too. (Although I prefer mine without stakes.) This was a major part of her appeal. Yet Farrell's heroine finds her own way, on her own terms, in the end. She manages a truce of sorts with both halves of her heritage, defines herself in relation to the important people in her life without being defined by them, and most importantly, puts her unique skills to work creating balance. My absolute favorite part of this book was a single line of dialogue that stuck with me and wormed its way into everyday conversation. Hunter to vampire, having a between-fight stroll: "You're sort of a rubbish vampire," Peter teases Ava. I love this. Americans don't have this phrase, but we should, and I've adopted it with enthusiasm. It works on people: Maybe you're a rubbish librarian, I thought to myself yesterday, after being forced to listen to a tirade in which a local high school librarian swore to a room full of teachers that no one was reading YA. "I try to get them to read Christian fiction," she announced mournfully. "Especially the older girls." I concentrated on staying calm. For now. The phrase works on inanimate objects, as well. You're a rubbish pot of coffee, I told my sickly, see-through glass carafe of watery weakness this morning. Not near enough getup and go. Should have stuck with the Keurig. So yes, I found this book thoroughly worth it: Irish vampires, an enjoyable read, and a bonus catchy phrase. Win win!

Have a great Random Thursday (and Friday and weekend, or until whenever I get to post next!)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Whiny Wednesday Row 80 Update

Where did all my enthusiasm go? Was I rationed a finite amount this year, and unwisely let it go too soon? Have I burned through all my inspiration already?

Coffee still does it for me, but the crash comes faster. I can't find music that suits. The old stuff is old, and the new stuff irritates. I feel like I'm playing catch up all the time. I had to spend all of yesterday evening helping a fifth grader build a multi-media tri-fold display of Alexander Hamilton's entire life and career. We ate take-out burgers, which sent me to bed grumpy and sad. Fast food does that to me lately. Plus, I haven't made much forward progress on my WIP since the weekend. I wrote last week that I hit "The Wall," and I guess I'm still there. 

I have a case of the "meh"s. Have not hit word counts. Did scribble down some scenes as they came to me, but did not hit wc, so they don't count. Did read a book (Shadowfever! Woo hoo!) but no review yet. Two writing-related elements to my blog so far. Big marketing week so far. Not much visiting. I have the "meh"s and am not very good company. Hopefully that will self correct. But it's only Wednesday, so I have until Sunday. Maybe I'll pull out of the tailspin.

Confession time, as well, since I'm whining so much. I've been reporting in on five different writing goals. I had this guilty feeling some of the time, like I wasn't doing enough. I chalked it up to superwoman complex, or just didn't think about it all. Turns out I can blame my gift for disorganization: I initially kept my ROW80 page on a separate tab. You can see above right. But the I tried to integrate with my main blog, which was a good move for several reasons. The first and most important is because everyone else is doing it, and that's the most important reason for doing anything :). The other reason is that it made ROW80 more of a part of my regular blogging/writing/daily life. 

But when I  moved ROW80 from tab to main page, goal number six somehow slid off the list.

Yep. For the last few check-ins, I've been completely ignoring one of my pretty important goals. I wanted to have a chapter of my current WIP drafted and "decently edited" every week. Not perfect, mind you. But not rough, no skipping around, and something I wouldn't be ashamed to send off to a crit partner. 

It makes so much sense of my current malaise. If I'd been doing this, I'd don't think The Wall would be quite so thick or dense. It takes care of the editing aspect of my writing that I've been struggling with. My goals as I've listed them leave me a lot of freedom as far as generating raw material, creativity, and word count. That's all good. But by forcing myself to turn out one decently drafted chapter a week, it's automatic built-in editing. I'm forced to self-correct. If my word count days have me at Chapter Six, but I'm producing a draft of Chapter Four that week, then I'll know when I'm finished with the drafted chapter if I need to modify my overall plan as I move forward with less structured word count writing. Of course, I may just be doing word count and editing at once. It happens.

The point is, I'm back on the wagon! I feel silly for forgetting about goal #6. Yes, I dropped the ball, and it's amazing how it affected the whole structure. Butterfly effect, whatever. Hope everyone is having a good week!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Interview Grand Slam, Giveaways, and Villains

Happy Caffeinated Monday, everyone!
I hope it didn't feel like a Monday, and if it did, I hope that you at least had a higher blood/caffeine level than I did. I usually cut myself off at noon, but it's a Monday, and everybody drinks more caffeine on a Monday, right?
I don't have a problem. I can quit anytime. :)
Seriously, though. Excitement abounds here at the Ides of March! Be sure to check out my Interview Grand Slam and Book Giveaways by dropping by two fabulous book blogs featuring ME:

Tynga's Reviews:

Tynga's Reviews

Where you can learn all about what I do when I'm not writing, including my haphazard decorating style I've christened "spooky chic."
Misha's My Love Affair with Books:

My Love Affair With Books

Where you can learn about my one real-life super-power (hint: it has to with reading, the book was Moll Flanders, and I barely moved for 24 hours!) and discover how my early career as a pre-school delinquent prepared me to be a writer.

Plus, there's prizes! 
I love book bloggers so, so much. If I had world enough and time (and cash), I'd give every one of them Kindles. I said this on Random Thursday, I'll say it again on Caffeinated Monday: My new life's ambition is to become Kindle Claus.
I suppose I'd give them Nooks if they'd prefer them, but Nook Klaus doesn't have the same ring. In fact, it sounds kinda wrong.

And finally, I'm going to be spending a few days cozying up to my current villain. Getting to know him, asking him probing questions, putting him in the middle of different scenarios to see how he'll react, that kind of thing. Before I do, I have a confession to make. (We covered the coffee thing. I can quit anytime, ok?) 

I have this tendency to fall for my villains. 

It started in elementary school. After school, to be exact. The cartoon was Voltron: Defender of the Universe. The cartoon was ok and all, until evil Prince Lotor appeared in all his demented blue glory. After that, I was hooked. He was just so much more interesting than any of the good guys. So much more unpredictable. And he seemed to have so much more fun. Why Princess Allura insisted on sticking around, waiting on one of those stupid pilots to notice her, I'll never understand. 

Iago over Othello. Caliban over Ferdinand. Irial over Seth or Keenan. Irial over Seth and Keenan. Prince Zuko over Ang. Princess Azula over them all! 

I find I have the best of all possible worlds when I work with polymoral characters. What winds up happening is that my heroes fall a little and my villains find pockets of good. A polymoral villain is all the more terrible and tragic because he could have chosen good, but didn't. But he could have! And maybe he will. Next time. Or maybe he'll kidnap you and hold you for ransom on Planet Doom.
A girl can only dream. 

So I'll be doing villain interviews this week, and if anyone has any fun get-to-know-your villain ideas or exercises, shoot them my way. I'm game. Thanks, and have a great remainder of your Monday! -VK

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Interview Grand Slam with Giveaways! and ROW80!

Hello Everyone! Please check out my Interview Grand Slam tomorrow on Monday, Jan. 24, when I'll be  featured on both Misha's My Love Affair with Books and Tynga's Reviews! My first interviews, and I have two in one day, so please drop by and show your support! I'll be giving away six copies of my book, plus both Misha and Tynga are proud new Kindle owners, so come share your love for ebooks and Indies in general. Hope to see you there!

Ok, ROW 80 Check in:

1. At least 1500 wc, 4 times a week? Check.
I hit what I call The Wall this week. I was forced to stop what I was doing and resort to basic writing exercises I teach my students. And what do you know? It worked. Sort of. I don't know how much of last night's word count will make the final cut, but it was bound to happen sooner or later.
I need to carve out some editing time, and soon.

2. Book in my genre, read and reviewed? Check.
3. Fellow ROW80ers? Check.
4. Two writing-related blog posts? Check.
5. Marketing? Grr. Check.
The "grr" was for a so-called discussion I got into on Kindleboards. I think I'm going to ground myself from Kindleboards and Joe Konrath's site for a week. They're both great, useful places, don't get me wrong. I just obviously need to be focusing on other things when I start participating in pointless debates that take up residence in my head for far longer than they should.

 On a more positive marketing note, if you haven't checked out JL Bryan's Hanted Ebook Tour or The Indie Book Collective's Blog Tour de Force, you should. They're both great examples of how we Indies can support each other in fun, positive ways. I'm not only enjoying the tours, I'm taking notes.
Plus I just really want a Haunted Library. It just sounds better than a regular library.

Finally, if you haven't heard of a little band called The Civil Wars, you probably will soon. They're a great example of an Indie success story; their music has been featured on Grey's Anatomy and they just played the Jay Leno Show. Yet they maintain Indie roots. John Paul hails from my hometown, where the band continues to maintain close ties in spite of, or perhaps even because of, their success. What do Indie writers and Indie musicians have in common, you ask? I think in this case, their duet is as perfect an example of songwriting-as-storytelling as it gets. Have a listen and see if you don't agree:

A good Sunday sound. Congrats, guys!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Random Thursday: Duquette Johnston, Batman-Converse Shoes, Mexican Lasagna, and Anniversaries

1. My son needs a haircut. Maybe that's what got me thinking about one of my favorite Duquette Johnston videos, where he plies his trade in exchange for a haircut in downtown Birmingham. Rock n roll + son needs haircut = post music video to blog instead?

Who knows? Happy random Thursday! And by all accounts, Duquette was very happy with the haircut.

Duquette Johnston - Got Lost & Stayed from Green Block on Vimeo.

Random Thursday Countdown continues:

2. No Book Blogger Left Behind. Given funds enough and time, I'd give every serious book blogger in the world their very own Kindle. For free. Just call me Kindle Claus.

3. I'm having Mexican lasagna for dinner. Not quite sure what this is since I didn't make it (do I ever?), but it has tortilla chips and cheese on top and smells... mexicany. Ole!

4. There's a rumor going around that Converse makes Batman tennis shoes. If this is true, it will change my life in deep and mysterious ways.

5. Thirteen years ago yesterday I married this guy named Daniel in New Orleans. For some reason, he's still hangin' around. Happy day-after-anniversary, Daniel; this song's for you!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The. Worst. Book. Ever. (and ROW80 Check-in)

I wanted to spend some time this check-in examining a little place I like to call Planet Worst Book Ever in the interest of (hopefully) not getting stuck there as I work on my current WIP and deal with a book that's already out in the wild. I used to think this was a shameful place known only to me, but I've come to find out a lot of writers spend time there. That doesn't make it any more fun, but I've since discovered that these writers who've been there before me have coping skills that sometimes help if I remember to use them. This is especially important since this week I'm struggling with two things: feeling like I haven't made much progress and feeling like I don't know what I'm doing. In other words, feeling like a noob, which, with a three week old ebook, I am. 

It's easy to get sucked into an Internet whirlpool of marketing and promotion and competitive insanity that runs in tandem with the ebook revolution of the 21st Century. Sell! Tweet/Facebook/Promote all the time! It's 2 am! Do you know what your ebook is doing in Sweden right now???? No? You are going to sink into a pit of anonymous hacks and lie dying on an ash heap of self-published fools. You should have stuck with that job as an insurance rep or bank teller or con artist instead of playing make-believe in frou-frou land. Maybe there's still time. Turn back now! 

I don't spend as much time on Planet Worst Book Ever as I once did. But as mega-blockbuster bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert points out in this little talk of hers, it's a place all writers visit. This 19 min. clip is  something I watch again and again. I make my students watch it. I haven't even read her book (and don't plan to- another post, perhaps) but this is a must-see for everyone who's ever attempted a creative venture in the modern age.  (My actual check-in stats follow if you want to skip it, but it's worth the watch!)

Goals? I have less word count to report than I would like, but there is still time and I will make it, by God. I did get in about 800-1000 handwritten words on Monday, but since I set the bar at 1500, I can't count it. Nope. Four days of 1500 words each. Partial counts don't cut it. Harsh maybe but that's how I roll.

My marketing goal? I'm trying to take an educational approach. As in, watch and learn, grasshopper. There seem to be as many ways to market a book as there are to write one. Some of them seem pretty wrong for me- like the person who keeps spamming my inbox with twenty messages a day about a book I've never heard of and might have read- two hundred spam emails ago. Then there are some authors who seem really cool, with books I like, who have their own unique spins, platforms, blog tours, etc. A balance between attraction and promotion, I suppose. And nice. Be nice to people. This is important to me. I don't see how people who spread unhappiness can be happy themselves, and then what's the point?

I do have two interviews with book blogs of around 1,000 followers next week. The biggest blog contacted me out of the blue, for goodness sake. Did I mention I sometimes feel like I have no idea what I'm doing? But that's ok. 3 weeks. Baby steps. 

My other goals? Writing-related blog post? Check. Book in my genre read? Check (One Night with the Fae was awesome, Claire Farrell! Review to follow!) (So was Thirst!) Getting to know fellow ROW80ers? Check. So really, not so bad.

I generally do a lot better when I remind myself of a few things:
1. I am not my work. 
2. My work is three weeks old.
3. Chill out and watch this video. 
4. Still not convinced? Proceed as normal and check back in a few months, or better, years, before giving myself the coveted Worst. Book. Ever. Award.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

How Rough is Too Rough? ROW 80 and the Writing Process

This year, I decided to undertake the ROW80 challenge with a host of many fine writers. I wasn't really sure what I was getting into. I'd managed to get my first book out there kind of by the seat of my pants, and I knew I was going to have to find a way to be more organized and productive if I was going to have a prayer of producing another one, let alone actually selling it. I found myself overwhelmed by the sheer volume of resources for writers available on the web. Forums, blogs, books- lots of "how to," but not much "how do." I noticed a lot of the most productive, accessible writers in my genre had this little button on their blogs, so I checked it out and managed to sign up just in time. 

One of the goals I set for myself was a rather high word count (1500) every day for four days a week. Was I going to be able to do this? It seemed rather high. But I went ahead and set this goal because the cool thing about ROW80 is that you get to readjust your goals if they don't seem to be working. So I went ahead and did the 1500 wc thing, with the caveat that almost any kind of fictional writing counted- freewriting, very rough drafts, worldbuilding, notes scratched on paper towels. It just had to add up to 1500, 4 times a week. 

So, with only week three under way, I've been shocked to find myself churning out 3,000 words a day sometimes. Let me be clear- these are frequently rough words. I know I'm going to have a lot of editing to do. I've included two examples from my current WIP at the very bottom. Unless you're interested in the writing samples here you may very well want to skip them for the check-in:

1. Four days of at least 1500 words of fiction-related writing
2. Two writing-related blogs
3. One paranormal book read and reviewed
4. 30 min. of marketing a day, 5 days a week, of my current release
5. Meeting other ROW80 writers. This week I'd like to try a new (to me) ROW80 writer's book. I've got my eye on Claire Farrell's, because I'm into faeries suddenly. Had an idea for a series about bad faeries, plus I just love them. Must be feeling a little fey :) 

Ch. 2 is a little more finished, and Ch. 4 hasn't even been run through spell check (obviously!). I also include them because sometimes I get stuck in this place where I think my drafts are the roughest, ugliest, worst ever, and it helps to know a rough draft is, well, rough. Giving myself the freedom to write really rough drafts that border on chickenscratch at times seems to be helping. I still do my share of staring out the window and surfing the web, but I do feel more productive. And my draft is taking shape, even if it's ugly. I guess my point is, before ROW80, I don't think I would have been able to give myself the freedom to write now, fix later. I know I have the next round of ROW80 to whip this WIP into shape, if not before.  

Chapter Two:
Change of Plans

They say one of the first signs of serious addiction is lying about your habit and hiding the evidence.
Unfortunately for me, the world was conspiring to take my coffee away.
Which would happen, of course, over my dead body. With the first week of classes barely under way, I needed my early morning caffeine fix more than ever. I had a full, brutal schedule this semester, including back-to-back studio classes and three lecture series. As luck would have it, the most boring lecture class of all was also my earliest. I needed coffee. How else was I supposed to get through it?
When Logan started cutting me off at one pot per day, I knew I was going to have to take action. I smiled grimly at the gigantic styrofoam Big Gulp cradled against my forearm. As long as no one came up and sniffed, it would fool everyone into thinking I’d suddenly developed a healthy appetite for sodas. All I had to do was leave the apartment a few minutes early and dash into the Coffee Shop before school, snagging a muffin as cover for my presence. I lifted a corner of the plastic lid and sipped, grimacing slightly at the bitter aftertaste cheap styrofoam left in coffee. So far, my plan was working perfectly. But if anyone at work got suspicious and reported me to Logan, I’d already picked out a convenience store as an alternate supplier.
I didn’t drink too much coffee. I just needed it to stay awake in class. I could quit anytime.

Chapter Four:

His kisses on my cheekbones were light and quick, and when his lips toiuched my mouth, tasting of salt, I realized I had been crying.
 “You’re not a monster,’ he promised. “I would never encourage you, teach you, even, to use gifts that were eveil. Even shadows have theirp place, if you use them for the light.”
 “But how can I use Darkness to fight darkness, without it hurting me somehow?” I whispered, running a fingernail down the wide corudoruy wale of my father’s coat.
 “Because, you aren’t made of Darkness,” he whispered, rocking me in is arms under the moon and skeletal trees. “You cannot change your essential nature.” When I didn’t respond, I felt hs fingers tghten
 “Touching,” said a low, sneering, familiar voice from just beyong the safety of Ethan’s conforting arms. 

 I hope everyone else is having good luck with their goals, and may many good reads come your way!
All the best,

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Review: "Rebellion" by Stacey Wallace Benefiel

I have been a fan of Stacey Wallace Benefiel since her first foray into YA fiction with Zellie Wells and Glimpse, which I totally enjoyed. Having loved Glimpse and Glimmer, I was curious about what she would do with a more adult universe. It has been interesting to follow the characters from Day of Sacrifice a little bit further on their journey. This new world Ms. Benefiel has created is deeper and fuller, with a complex mythology and magical system that is truly unique. Gods and goddesses who are powerful but also petty and vindictive, prophecies, rebellions, angels and witchcraft- I've never encountered anything like the world her DoS series is set in. In a paranormal reading market where it's hard to find anything new, Rebellion does exactly that. With two novellas so far, we also get multiple points of view of a situation pushed to the breaking point. Characters pushed to rebel against the powers that be find new depths within themselves, and also new attractions to each other. This is something that sets her DoS series apart from Glimpse and Glimmer- there is a decidedly adult edge of sexuality. Rebellion is more about romance and anticipation. I liked the way she switched to new characters from DoS; it was interesting to revisit Julian and Flora, but from the outside looking in. The only thing I wish was different was that Rebellion was longer and gave us more. I wanted to stay with the two main characters just a little bit longer, so hopefully there will be a third one out soon.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Hymn to Vampire Hours... and farmers?

Vampire hours are a lot of fun, and have a certain allure. There is something delicious about rising hours before sunset, bleary-eyed over my first cup of coffee as I huddle in my pajamas waiting for its descent. Afterwards, I feel singled out upon the earth, as if those of us who keep the night shine more brightly because so many others lay sleep-dimmed or altogether doused. It's a special kind of creativity for me. Winter stars are sharper. The winter moon is farther away but more observant of her acolytes. Summer nights are almost decadent in their fullness. Our famous Southern heat settles like a robe I've slipped out of and left forgotten somewhere, leaving me to walk, unfettered, under a hazy night sky. Southern midnights don't follow clocks, either; sometimes they last an hour, sometimes two or three, but always there is music, an ebb and swell of crickets, cicadas, tree frogs, and other, wilder things with names that tease the edges of recognition but dare not reveal.

Waffle House tastes better after midnight. Bad news waits until morning, but it doesn't matter, for you will be asleep then, safe in your vampire cocoon. Cotton is softest before dawn. The best ideas come in the middle of the night, because there are fewer people awake to write them down. You never have to wait in line at Wal-Mart. Your yard looks as fabulous as your neighbor's, because you can't tell how long your grass really is unless you invest in high-powered front lawn illumination. (Don't.)

But for me, the calendar turns, children return to school, universities open their doors, and UPS does not offer a vampire delivery option. So sometimes I am forced to give up my vampire hours. What to do? After years of fighting against what I thought was my natural nocturnal setting, imagine my shock when I recently realized I could function on Farmer Time.

Yes, I know. I'm not over the shock, either.

After years of embracing a vampire hour lifestyle, I have discovered that I am almost equally happy rising just as the sun hits the sky. Most of the world is equally asleep then too. If they are not, then they are just waking up, with scrambled brains that hardly count as awake. After a few sweet whispers to my Keurig coffee maker, I am in fairly good spirits as the sun climbs ever higher and I sit down to work. What's happened? Why did it take me so long to figure out I had an alternate setting? I have no idea. Perhaps the vampire hours club (if there is such a thing) will take away my membership card. I don't know.

My sleeping patterns affect everything from my creative output to the degree of noir I manage to inject into my writing to how in or out of step with the rest of the world I manage to be. This in itself is a revelation. The me of not so very long ago wouldn't have cared how hard or fast I drove my body. I know now in order to exist as a productive human being, I have to have sleep. For me, that sleep has exactly two speeds: vampire, and farmer. After all, I have ever been a creature of extremes. Vampire or Farmer. Day or night. College drop-out or Ph.D. Concerned nurturing parent or shot-slamming party girl. Sleep is important, but the concept of vampire hours is deeper than that. It's a unique perspective I hope to embrace again soon.

As in, "when's the next school break?" kind of soon. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Book 2 Cover and Synopsis, plus a little about the writing process

I'm really excited to have a working version of my cover for the second book in the Gifted Blood Trilogy, Ceremony of Innocence! It's still an early version (i.e. no text), but thanks to Tribble Studios for doing such a good job. I love the model, and I'm so glad we'll be able to work with the same one throughout the whole series. I'm also grateful to be working with a creative team so receptive to my input. 
Here's the working cover, and the synopsis:

Ceremony of Innocence
The Gifted Blood Trilogy, Book II
A powerful enemy steps out of the shadows at last, determined to build an army of Nephilim descendants that will conquer the Realms of Light and Darkness. Caspia is the perfect weapon, except for one small problem. She doesn't want to join. Too bad the demon that hunts her doesn't care.

As Ethan struggles to define his new role and Logan learns to live again, Caspia finds herself both reluctant defender and coveted potential weapon as conflict escalates throughout the streets of Whitfield.

But powerful enemies are met by powerful new allies:

A Knight Templar who purchased immortality at the cost of his soul has finally tracked his ancient enemy to Whitfield. His centuries-long search will end in victory or death, no matter who stands in his way.

Someone Caspia has known her whole life can suddenly command the elements and track shadows from the Dark Realms. She's even more unpleasantly surprised when their newest ally gets a little too close to Ethan for her comfort.

As both Chastain siblings push themselves to learn all they can about their ancestry and their abilities, Caspia struggles with the Dark nature of her gifts. Can she use Darkness to fight Darkness without becoming corrupted herself, even if it is in defense of her home, family, and the man she loves?

In Gifts of the Blood, Caspia fought for her brother's life and soul.
In Ceremony of Innocence, Caspia must fight for her own.
There you have it!

I'm a very visual writer. What do I mean by that? Since I've been working on my Whitfield novels, I've put a lot of effort and time into creating the town, the characters, the businesses, and even some of the products these businesses sell! I have a stack of notebooks that I imagine Caspia would draw in, a drawer full of art supplies I can imagine her using, a couple of vials of essential oils that come from (imaginatively, of course) Mrs. Alice's shop, and, of course, endless varieties of coffee from the Whitfield Coffee Shop. 

Let's just say Caspia and I have blood/coffee levels far above the legal limit most days. 

One whole wall of my studio is covered with photographs and drawings of downtown Whitfield; Caspia's room, complete with strategic piles of laundry; maps of the area; genealogical charts; color-coded charts breaking down supernatural mythology by sources, region, time period, and religious tradition. 

Yep. I'm a pretty deep world builder. It helps me be a better writer, but I also turn to these activities when I have writer's block. Working with my hands helps, at times. I also use my website as a virtual world building tool.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Book Review Double Feature: Kait Nolan and Victorine Lieske

Before I forget, check out Sparkling Review's Friday write-up of Gifts of the Blood, courtesy of the lovely Jamie:

I love those ladies. Their blog is always so upbeat, and a lot of fun. I've been a follower for a while now. In fact, it may have been the very first book blog I started following, so it was really special to see my own book reviewed on their site. Thank you, ladies! You rock my casbah!

We're facing a potentially debilitating ice storm here at the Ides of March, so I'm racing to get my online work done in case we lose power. One of the things I've been meaning to do has been to review the books I sat down and read yesterday. I made myself take a reading day, which is kind of my version of a taking a sanity day at work. It was great. In addition to the two books I've put up for review today, I also read J.L. Bryan's Jenny Pox, which blew me away. It was wonderful in a mind-blowing, brain-twisting, etc. etc. fill-in gruesome but worshipful metaphor way. With an impending ice storm and the possibility that we might lose power, I think I'll wait to write my review for it. Plus I just need time to process it.

This leaves the last bit of work for ROW80 for tomorrow's check in. It's not supposed to get really nasty until tomorrow night, so I should be able to get everything done. Why am I being so meticulous about this? Because I live in the South and we freak out about snow and ice. The schools have closed for Monday already, and we've been told to expect widespread power outages. Since Auburn is playing in the National Championship for the first time since 1952 on Monday night, the prospect of losing power is enough to cause a state-wide panic. It's not real if you can't watch it on TV, you know. And we take our football very seriously here in the SEC. Hopefully there won't be riots. I plan to download a hoard of books to my fully charged Kindle, because the battery will last for a month (according to the website.)  At any rate. here are my reviews:

Kait Nolan, Devil's Eye:

I love New Orleans. It's like no other city in the world. There's a rhythm and a spirit there that I've never encountered anywhere else. It's easy to break it down into its component parts and celebrate those: the food, the music, the architecture, the festivals. It's far more difficult to capture some aspect of the essence of the whole.

When I heard Kait Nolan had set her latest Mirus release in New Orleans, I knew I had to read it. The city is so often the subject of paranormal fiction that rarely manages to capture part of its greatest charm: that of a tightly knit southern community that cares tremendously about its members. Ms. Nolan manages this quite nicely by depicting a wolf-shifter who's had to create his own version of pack and family of all Mirus races, and even a human or two, and the flesh and blood sister of one of his missing pack members. Along the way, Ms. Nolan offers us wonderfully accurate renditions of the city I know and love so well: the tense camraderie of a hurricane watch party; the edgy awe of the St. Louis' cemeteries after dark; a mixture of modern and colonial architecture; a lilting Cajun patois.

In fact, it was the Cajun accent that got me. Mick, the wolf-shifter, hands a soaking wet protagonist a towel and says: "Here. This'll help a l'il bit."

Oh, the rolling Cajun 'l, perfectly and casually captured. I fell in love with Mick right away. And stayed that way for the rest of the novel. Some demi-goddesses have all the luck.

Nolan's writing is, as always, well-paced and deeply plotted. Her world building is meticulous. Her Mirus world is consistent, continuing some of the same tensions from Forsaken by Shadow, even though the characters are different. If anything, the story is a little too short. The novel ended with me wanting to know more. There are certainly interesting possibilities open for the lead characters as the novel ends, but perhaps we won't have to wait long for the next installment.

Victorine Lieske, Not What She Seems:

It's been quite a long time since I read something in this genre, and I was happy that when I did, it was with a good read like this one. I'd call this a sweet romantic suspense. The writing was excellent. Ms. Lieske kept up a fast pace that didn't drag or get boring or, alternately, go so fast as to lose the reader. Her writing was lean but descriptive- no long, flowery, unnecessary expostions here. Her dialogue was believable, as were her characters. In fact, I developed quite a fondness for several of them. The male protagonist, Steven, was particularly interesting. He's the kind of guy who has everything, and it's really easy for characters like that to come off as flat and unbelievable, but Steven was actually my favorite one. Ms. Lieske does a great job with the supporting characters, too. Rose was one of my particular favorites. She really captured the feel and rhythms of small town life, and just when I thought I had figured out who'd done it, there was some twist that made me have to guess again. I didn't relate to the female lead character all that well. She was well written, and sweet and all that; I just had a hard time feeling sympathy for her. I know she went through a lot, but it was hard for me to like a character who was so passive about what she had been through. I know these aren't real people, but if they were, I hope she gets counseling! And that's actually a point in Ms. Lieske's favor- I really did think about these characters long enough after I put the book down to imagine what their lives would be like afterward. I definitely would recommend this book to anyone who likes mystery, romance, women's fiction, suspense, or thrillers.

Both great reads whether you're going to be housebound or not. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

So You're an Indie Writer. Now What? Part 1.

When Genres Collide: What Christina Rosetti's "Goblin Market" and Bands Like Arcade Fire Can Teach Us

There's been a lot of eyerolling, head-scratching, and "So What?" shoulder-rolling going on at the way the term "Indie" gets thrown around these days. Certainly, the term has become almost a cliche in the music and filmmaking industries. But since the advent of the e-book and the self-publishing revolution, writers are now hopping the Indie train as well. In an effort to get away from the stigmas long associated with the stodgy-sounding "self-published author," or even worse, "vanity press," Johnathon Fields of The Huffington Post explains just what's in a name in his article, "Bringing Sexy Back." But is tweaking a name enough to change the image? After all, isn't a self published author by any other name still a self published author?

Like a lot of people, including Joe KonrathApril Hamilton and Zoe Winters, to name just three of our most prominent standard-bearers, I am a fierce proponent of the Indie movement in writing, music and the arts. Let me repeat the important part there: Indie Movement. Because what we have on our hands, folks, is so much bigger than the names by which we call ourselves or even whether we sell more books independently or with traditional publishing houses. In this post, I'm going to try to get away from an argument that is wearing thin for those who've already gone Indie. Just one well-intentioned example is Joe Konrath's recent blog post The Death Spiral, no doubt meant to appeal to writers still slogging away in the trad pub trenches. But many Indie writers know this kind of info, and for those of us who embraced Indie writing from the very beginning, we are left to wonder, "Ok, Big6 dying, got it. Now what?" It's a big question, and one that demands an exploration of the emerging cross-genre Indie world. Here's why it's critical:

As Indie writers, we are part of an aesthetic movement every bit as viable as Romanticism, Neo-Classicism, and Surrealism. One hundred years from now, we will be able to access the latest version of the Holman and Harmon Handbook to Literature on our Kindles or Nooks and read, somewhere after Ibsen, about the Indie movement of the early twenty-first century.

Know what's really cool about this particular aesthetic movement, which is, incidentally, still defining itself? It exists across genres. Indie writers are inspired by and work with Indie artists and musicians all the time. Many of us make our livings doing some combination of the three. Writer and artist Ronnell Porter comes to mind. His book cover for his Indie novella Undying is mouthwateringly beautiful:

Cross-genre collaboration as a defining marker in the history of literary movements is really rare and really cool, although not unheard of. The example I've chosen today is the Pre-Raphelite movement. Christina Rosetti's poem Goblin Market is one of my favorites. If you haven't read it, you should; it's a classic. It's long, and although I've read the whole thing many times, often I just skip to the bits about the goblin men and the actual market itself because that's the most vivid. Her descriptions of the different kinds of goblin fruit are almost tactile, and the relationship between the two sisters has quite the erotic subtext. All in all, a remarkable poem for a woman to write in the late 19th Century. Here's David Shaw reading the entire poem aloud, with illustrations by Christina's brother, Dante Rossetti.

Here's where it gets interesting and Indie-relevant: artistic cross-collaboration. Dante Rosetti painted many of the illustrations for his sister's epic poem. She also grew up in a household surrounded by painters, and was heavily influenced by the visual in her writing. Goblin Market is considered one of the seminal works in the gothic/horror/supernatural fields. It's a poem that relies heavily on vivid, haunting descriptions for its almost halluncinatory effects. So there you have it: art and writing, hand-in-hand in an aesthetic genre many paranormal writers today claim as one of their favorites. 
Dante Rosetti also wrote poetry. Though he is most famous for his paintings, the two were often intertwined: "The blending of the material and the spiritual, of soul and body, of idea and act, defines Rossetti's poetry as much as it does his pictorial work."-The Rossetti Archives
Here are some of his more famous paintings. They remind me more than a bit of Mr. Porter's cover illustration:

So how is this relevant to Indie writers today? Bands like Arcade Fire have pretty much blown the lid off the term, sparking debates about whether bands that sell out Madison Square Gardens still qualify as Indie. And yet, their very success underscores the importance of stabilizing the term, as does Amanda Hocking's recent success. Does the fact that she has no less than six novels in the Amazon Top 100 as of this writing make her any less Indie than newly published me? Is Arcade Fire less Indie than bands like Glossary or The Only Sons?

Do we define ourselves by our sales or by our work?

Either way, there's already a thriving Indie scene underneath our noses, waiting for us to open our eyes and tap in. Some of us already have. If you are an Indie writer, tired of beating your head againt the myth that you aren't a real writer, there's a lot to be gained by looking to Indie musicians and artists, many of whom don't seem to face the same existential crisis we writers deal with. And remember: we're defining an aesthetic movement here! I know it's not as tangible as an Amazon ranking, nor will it pay the rent, but is important, and it's happening all around us, everday. 

To recap, "Indie" is more than a name; it's a vibrant, evolving aesthetic movement that's been under way for quite some time now. We writers are a bit late to the party, perhaps, but at least it's in full swing. Also, we have quite a bit to learn from fellow Indies in other fields. Although the paralells aren't exact, we certainly can take lessons in what worked and what didn't, what's working now, and so on. Finally, it's wonderful to know that, even though many fellow writers may not yet feel like "real writers" until they have the Big6 stamp, there is a huge, thriving community of like-minded artists, musicians, and even a few writers out there, all of them Indies.  

All Rosetti imagesand quotes, with the exception of David Shaw's reading, are courtesy of The Complete Rossetti Archives,