Monday, September 30, 2013

Guest Post: Life as a Serial Murderer by Anton Strout author of The Spellmason Chronicles

I confess.  I’m a serial murderer.  I can’t help it.  People have to die, and it’s my hands that do the dark deed.  And you know what?  I’m unapologetic about that.  Frankly, it’s one of the greatest joys I have in life.  It’s true—I love being an urban fantasy writer.

I sold my first book, DEAD TO ME, back in 2007 and at the time it was a standalone urban fantasy written basically because I missed Buffy too much.  What I hadn’t really considered—fledgling author, I—was that the publishers were going to want more Simon Canderous paranormal detective novels from me.  Yet somehow I managed to mentally process that request and somehow produced three more in that series before starting on a second one for them, the Spellmason Chronicles.  As we speak ALCHEMYSTIC and the just released STONECAST are already in the can for that series, and I’m currently fast at work on the third. How the hell did I get two series going?

Looking back, I have to marvel at the fact that I’ve produced seven books and five tie-in stories that spread over two different worlds. None of it came easy, believe me. I mean, I had spent a lot of time learning how to write, how to develop everything that goes into a single book, but the one area none of the classes or workshops I went to ever taught was how does one write an ongoing series?  When Ace asked for more Simon books, I was stumped.

Learning how to write a continuing series was something I was absolutely unfamiliar with, and since there was no class I could enroll myself in, my education came in trial by fire and learning through my mistakes as I went.

The first step was in adjusting how I thought about my next book, which at the time was DEADER STILL.  My thinking went from figuring out not just the short term goals for my characters but what the long term ones were for the book beyond DEADER STILL.

Luckily, I tend to write cinematically thanks to years of rampant geekery and viewing, so I began to think of each book in a series as episodes of a season.  They had their individual episodic goals as well as the longer term ones a television season usually has.  For instance, there are a lot of individual adventures that make up season three of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, but the goal of the whole season was to graduate and take down the Big Bad, Mayor Wilkins (whose Ascension into snake form does not go quite as he planned). 

In order to get that depth into my own work as a newfound book series writer, I came up with what I like to call The LOST Approach.

Love it or hate it, the LOST television series did things that really were unprecedented, and fan loyalty ran high.  What I specifically loved—and stole—from the series, however, was the short and long term goals of the show.  Along the way the writers of LOST planted a lot of what I call story seeds.  These gave the show room to grow in a variety of directions.

And like all gardens, not all things grew.  Some of them died on the vine, as they will when you plant a lot of seeds.  They can’t all survive, especially for the sake of the story.  You have to let them die.  Otherwise readers will think every last thing means something in your book, and well… where’s the fun in figuring out all the mysteries ahead of time? You don’t want your series to become predictable, after all.

By both giving your characters a variety of traits and setting up a detailed world, yes, you add a richness to your word, but it also gives you a vast pool of sneaky opportunities to mine for connective tissue when you’re scrambling to put together the larger arc of your story.

With the Simon Canderous series I had dropped some unsolved mysteries into DEAD TO ME that I could use to tie in to later books, and because your job as a writer is to hide all the seams where you’ve stitched your monster together, the reader ends up none the wiser.  In the end, you want it to seem like you cleverly planned it all along when the truth is sometimes you’re working like hell to shove square pegs into round holes. It’s a tricky business disguising all that, but with practice, book by book, you get more seasoned at it.

By the time I began writing the Spellmason Chronicles I was well primed to get a head start working on my long term goals for that new series.  In turn, knowing some of these secrets has made it easier to steer the overall course of each book.  I think I’ve become a better gardener after seven books, one who is better at planting good seeds and seeing what lives and what dies.

But still, even now?  There ought to be a crash course offered on creating an ongoing series.  I have a feeling that classroom would fill up fast.

I swear this was completely unplanned, as it now appears I am having a series of guest posts on the topic of "writing sequels and series". Not that I'm complaining, I find it quite interesting.

Thanks Anton for coming over and giving us your perspective on how you approach writing a series, and good luck with your new release.

Stonecast is the second novel in The Spellmason Chronicles which is available now.

For more information you can visit Anton Strout's website or follow him on Twitter @AntonStrout.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Guest Post: Going from Debut to Series by Michael J. Martinez author of The Daedalus Incident

When I wrote The Daedalus Incident, my debut novel, I had no idea whether a space opera/historical fantasy mashup would work, or whether folks would be as jazzed as I was about sailing ships in space. Heck, I had no idea if I was even capable of writing a good novel. 

Well, apparently I am. It worked, folks were jazzed. I am a for-real author now. And I’m now contracted to write two more novels in the Daedalus series.

I interviewed Peter V. Brett last spring, and at the time I was surprised at the tack his attitude toward writing had taken since his success. He approached writing his books as a job, and a difficult one at that, whereas I was still of the dude-I’m-getting-a-novel-published-squee-awesome-yay mindset. 

I totally get it now, Peat. 

The next novel in the series, The Enceladus Crisis, is coming out next spring, with the third book (yet-to-be named, let alone written) due toward the end of 2014. While writing The Daedalus Incident was something of a lark, and a lot of fun to write, this is a business now. I have contracts. Deadlines. Obligations. These books have to be written.

And I also have fans. Like, at least two, possibly more. But seriously, people have read and generally enjoyed The Daedalus Incident, and they’ll have expectations for the next two. They’ll want to see more of the stuff that the loved about the first book, and they’ll all have opinions on where the story should go and what they want to see. 

No pressure.

Finally, as utterly pretentious as it sounds, I want to grow as a writer. I know, I know…I hesitate typing it. But I do indeed want to challenge myself. Writing Daedalus in the first place was a personal challenge, so why stop? I think most writers want to see just how much they have in the tank. So do I. That means The Enceladus Crisis will be more complex. It’ll have more characters, more POVs, more subplots. And not just more of the big stuff, but more nuance as well. More interesting bits. Better writing, even. 

I also want to play off any expectations set up in The Daedalus Incident. Yes, there will be sailing ships in space, because, you know, that’s still cool. And I’m playing with how those ships maneuver and fight in space, which means some pretty cool battles. There will also be different settings. A fair chunk of the story will happen on Earth. There will be intrigue. More setting exploration. More backstory. More of the stuff that folks commented on and liked.

And then, there’s also subverting expectations. I mean, I don’t want to treat Daedalus like a paint-by-numbers kit. Think about how The Empire Strikes Back was so much better than Star Wars, even though it was a very different movie. Same thing here. I want The Enceladus Crisis to have the same relationship to Daedalus. Difference within continuity is probably the best way to describe it.

There are definitely days where I look at what I’m writing and ponder exactly what I got myself into. But it’s totally worth it. It’s still fun, too. Turns out I created a pretty nifty sandbox, and I’m enjoying the new castles. 

Plus, unlike Peat, I still have my day job, and will for the foreseeable future. I can afford to fail miserably, even though I’d quite prefer not to. That’s freeing. My kid’s going to college whether or not these are awesome successes. So I feel like I can take some risks and see how it goes. 

In the end, though, there’s an edge to writing these new novels. I’m writing from a different place than I was. It’s not a bad thing, but it’ll be interesting to see what comes of it. I hope you enjoy the ride with me.

Let me be the first to point out that I have two Mikes in a row for guest posts on the blog. Don't know yet if that's a good thing, or a sign of the Apocalypse. Time will tell I guess. In any case, thanks Mike (Martinez) for stopping by. Good luck with your debut and with your series.

You can buy The Daedalus Incident on The Book Depository, Amazon, Audible, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound.

For more information please follow Michael J. Martinez on his website or on Twitter @mikemartinez72.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Guest Post: Standing at the Crossroads from Mike Shevdon, author of The Courts of the Feyre series

With the completion of the fourth and final book in The Courts of the Feyre I find myself at a cross-roads. Up until now I’ve styled myself as an Urban Fantasy Author, because that’s what I’ve written and it makes it easier for readers who are likely to enjoy my work to find me. For most people, though, urban fantasy isn’t a genre, and the words urban and fantasy simply don’t mean anything together. I might as well say goldfish collider for all the sense it makes to them. (Now I have an image of two goldfish swimming around a giant toroidal tank in opposite directions until they collide and scales and fins fly off in spiral patterns. That’s what an imagination will do to you. Be warned.)

So, while fans of the sub-genre rejoice in the subtle nuances between paranormal romance and urban fantasy, the rest of the world looks on in bemusement. At best they’ve seen True Blood or Being Human and assume that I write about vampires and werewolves, which isn’t far enough from the truth to be useful for plausible deniability. The last ten years have been spent writing about faeries - not the little darlings with the flower petal hats invented by the Victorians but the sort of faeries that suck the marrow from your bones and leave your head on a hazel spike as a warning to others. There are shape shifters in the Courts of the Feyre, and the Wraithkin might be considered predatory. They’re not vampires, but they do prey on others.

In the courts series I set out to weave together history and folklore and a sense of magic and mystery in the real world, and hopefully I succeeded. I could carry on writing about faeries. There are plenty of stories left to tell, and a willing audience to read them, and though the courts are finished there are some survivors. I’m not ready to do that, though. Not yet. I’m not saying there will never be another story set in that world, or with those characters that still remain, but not now. This is the cross-roads that I’ve reached.

The problem with urban fantasy, or any sub-genre of a similar nature, is that it’s circular. Urban fantasy inspires urban fantasy, which in turn begets urban fantasy. In defining itself it is chained to a rock, and the rock won’t move. That doesn’t mean that there’s no room for innovation or originality - there are authors pushing at the boundaries and rattling the chains, but if they go too far they are no longer part of the genre and they risk ostracising themselves from their fans.

When I set out to write I made a choice. I wanted the sense of wonder that follows you wherever you go, but based in reality. That meant avoiding the love triangles and “will-she, won’t she” dilemmas of paranormal romance and the obligation-free rootless heroes and heroines the populate much of urban fantasy. There’s nothing wrong with any of that - it can make a good story - but I wanted something else.

That meant that just because people had sex it didn’t mean they were in love. It meant characters with complicated messy lives filled with failed relationships, divorces, and responsibilities they would find it hard to walk away from. It meant people who made the same mistakes again and again - because that’s what people do. Redemption is the chance to break the cycle and start again, but while we may change our lives, we may forget to change ourselves, and it’s that struggle that I find interesting.

Ten years ago I was inventing characters - people that grew with me over four books and showed themselves for who they really were. I learned to walk in those people’s shoes and see what was in their hearts. Now I need to do that again, but with new people, taking everything I’ve learned and pouring it into a new mould. It’s hard to start again. It’s hard to walk away from ten years of foundation and structure, rules and constraints that are engraved on the inside of my head. But then it was hard to write about the funeral of a child, or to step into the head of a teenage girl, or to kill characters I’ve come to know and love. Writing’s hard, and when it’s hard it gets better.

As I stand at the crossroads and look back at ten years of work, I think I can be proud of what I’ve achieved. I didn’t revolutionise the genre, but that’s not what I set out to do. I did write four separate and distinct stories, each different from the last, each a development of what came before while standing on its own merits. I know this because I’ve read the reviews of people who started at book three and then went back to books one and two to find out how it came to be. I’ve stretched myself with each successive work, and grown as a writer each time. I’ve learned so much, and yet I can see I have much to learn. It’s a beginning.

I’m still working on what comes next - I’m not short of ideas.  There are some interesting avenues to explore and I want to give myself the time and the freedom to build something new. When I started down this road I wanted to write about magic in the real world. Now I want to do something else, and I haven’t decided yet what that will be. You may think I’m being coy, but I’m not the writer with a drawer full of old manuscripts. Everything is new - it’s all developed from scratch. That’s daunting because I know how much work it is, but at the same time it’s exciting because it’s new and raw.

One thing I can say is that writing has changed me. When I started writing I had no idea how difficult it would be. Becoming a writer has changed the way I see the world - it’s shifted my perspective. 

I can’t undo that - and I wouldn’t want to even if I could.

Thanks Mike for stopping by, and good luck with whatever project you decide to go with next.

You can buy the books from The Courts of the Feyre here:

Sixty-One Nails
The Road to Bedlam
Strangeness and Charm
The Eighth Court

For more information you can visit Mike Shevdon's website or follow him on Twitter @Shevdon.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Giveaway: Kitty in the Underworld by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty Norville is a fun urban fantasy series that follows a werewolf DJ from author Carrie Vaughn. It's one of the first ones I began reading in the genre, which is now in its twelfth installment. This latest one is Kitty in the Underworld which was released at the end of Summer, and naturally I have a giveaway for you guys (3 copies) sponsored by Tor.
As Denver adjusts to a new master vampire, Kitty gets word of an intruder in the Denver werewolf pack’s territory, and she investigates the challenge to her authority. She follows the scent of the lycanthrope through the mountains where she is lured into a trap, tranquilized, and captured. When she wakes up, she finds herself in a defunct silver mine: the perfect cage for a werewolf. Her captors are a mysterious cult seeking to induct Kitty into their ranks in a ritual they hope will put an end to Dux Bellorum. Though skeptical of their power, even Kitty finds herself struggling to resist joining their cause. Whatever she decides, they expect Kitty to join them in their plot . . . willingly or otherwise.

Participants have to be 18 years of age or older to participate. Void where prohibited by law. Giveaway rules are subject to change. 

The giveaway is open to US and Canada shipping addresses only, and it will run from September 16, 2013 until 11:59 pm ET on September 27, 2013.

The giveaway is for a chance to win a copy of 3 of the twelfth installment in the Kitty Norville urban fantasy series by Carrie Vaughn, Kitty in the Underworld from Tor.

How to participate:
  • To participate simply log-in into to the Rafflecopter and "Enter" through the easy entry.
  • One entry per person, or face disqualification.
  • Entries accepted until 11:59pm ET on September 27, 2013.
  • There'll be 3 winners for only 1 copy each of Kitty in the Underworld.
  • Will have to confirm email to be considered a winner within 48 hours.
  • Additional entries may be had by following the steps provided in the Rafflecopter instructions, and only by doing those steps. 
  • Winners will be chosen by random selection using the Rafflecopter.
Good luck!

For more information please visit Carrie Vaughn's website.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Bastard Reaction: Generation V by M. L. Brennan

This would've been an easy title to overlook; a seemingly by the numbers vampire story from a debut author with a cute guy (or so I've been told) on the cover and not much else. It screamed "Pass!" to me, a book intended for someone else. Thankfully I didn't after seeing a couple of positive reactions to it from like-minded readers, and the level of excitement editor Anne Sowards showed for the release of this novel. I can honestly say Generation V by M. L. Brennan is the most fun I've had reading an urban fantasy novel in the past year or more. Don't make the same mistake and judge the book by its cover, you'll thank me later. It's the first of the American Vampire urban fantasy series.

Fortitude is living an unfulfilling life, and even though he surely is aware of his circumstances, he doesn't seem to care much about improving his situation; content in living a life without confrontations and conflicts while remaining as willfully ignorant as possible. He has a "girlfriend" who's sleeping around, yet has him convinced that it's normal, he has dead-end job with ungrateful co-workers, and a roommate who refuses to pay the rent. If that wasn't enough he's a vampire, in the making, but hasn't manifested yet, something he's praying doesn't happen ever. His plan is to avoid becoming a full vampire like the rest of his family, cruel murderous vampires in his view responsible for a childhood tragedy that has left him traumatized for the rest of his life. This explains why he's now living the life as he is now, being as good and ethical as he possibly can, but with little ambition. What's a goody-two-shoe to do though when a maniac vampire comes to town, and no one is willing to stand against him? With the help of the kitsune Suzume, Fortitude looks to change the fortune of his life or die trying doing what's right.

Generation V is a multifaceted novel which took care to depict precisely what Fort's life is all about. It's fun and funny, as it's dark and tragic. We spend a few days with Fort in a story that is character focused, and are invited to experience all as he does from the dullest to the most exciting of moments. What follows is a well balanced novel which contains a mixture of slice-of-life, family drama, comedy, mystery, suspense, action, and horror. A combination that works and provides perfect contrast between the lighthearted moments and those that are surprisingly dark and horror filled.

The characters were a big plus, probably Brennan's biggest storytelling strength in my opinion. Not only did she create memorable characters, she also provided some terrific character interaction which is one of the elements I'm most interest in. That's not to say everything was smooth sailing. I mean, I spent the whole book wishing I could punch Fortitude in the balls to see if he finally grew a pair. He was living in denial and extremely naïve, to the point that is was unbelievable and frustrating. By the same token, in the end it becomes part of his charm, but still...fist meet Fort's testicles.

Besides him, we have an assortment of incredibly good secondary characters starting with Fort's siblings with similarly eccentric names: his brother Chivalry and sister Prudence. Both who are aptly named, which I'll leave at that. We also have Madeline, his mother and head vampire of the region and a character who's clearly playing the long game. Lastly we have the kitsune Suzume who easily stole the show in this book. Generation V was a pretty good read, but when Suzume was introduced the novel just went to a whole different level. She was awesome. Before I began reading, anime was my passion, so when anything concerning Japanese culture gets introduced I get quite excited. Bias aside, Suzume was simply amazing. She was fun and funny, as well as incredibly mischievous and quite badass. To that point, I say screw Generation V, when are we going to get Generation K? I kid I kid, but hey that's an idea... She really complemented Fort, and they made an incredible duo as the story progressed to say nothing of the fascinating banter between them. When Suzume was around, life didn't suck all that much, "even if you're a vampire".

World-building is still a work in progress, it's clear that the world being created here is quite expansive, but not much of an opportunity to get into just yet. There was a point where Brennan tried to expand by introducing a couple of minor characters as an attempt to show different supernatural beings that exist in this world, but the attempt felt a bit off to me. Like it didn't quite fit either the world that's being created, or the story that was being told in this particular book. But at the same time we met the full kitsune contingent, and that worked perfectly, so I hope that as Brennan expands on the world, things will get more interesting.

That aside, the vampire mythology was incredible and quite unique. I can honestly say I haven't seen something quite like this, so kudos to Brennan's creativeness. From the way vampires are created, to the way the have relationships, to the effects bloodsucking has, everything was well thought-out. And we can't forget how she reinvents the meaning of what it is to be a Renfield which was very intriguing.

The novel is not action packed, but there's plenty of energy and movement. And yes, it has action and it's well executed when there is. The story was quite funny at times, I think it actually made me laugh a couple of times, which the written word finds hard to do with me. It has an abundance of great confrontations though, usually in the form of Fort with his family members. Just the same, the story goes quite dark at times, disturbingly so on occasions and fascinatingly violent. This to say, that there's a little bit of everything here for all kinds of readers.

Generation V is a refreshingly unique novel that all urban fantasy enthusiast should read, and a book capable of encouraging even the most ardent critics of the genre. Very much a page turner, a story that has a lot of heart and much to offer. With an extremely fun novel full of charm, Brennan has written a winner. Very much looking forward to future adventures featuring Fort and Suzume. They can't come soon enough, Iron Night comes out next January.

Buy Generation V from The Book Depository.

For more information please visit M. L. Brennan's website or follow on Twitter @BrennanML.

Oh, and the cover for Iron Night, much better I say. Do you agree?