Friday, December 31, 2010

In with the new

The new year is so close it fills the horizon. 2011 will see some exciting changes to this blog. With the addition of two new bloggers we'll be going to five days a week. Pamela Turner will be posting on Tuesdays, and Nerine Dorman will be here on Thursdays. You can also find Write Club on Twitter now so give us a follow.

Have a safe and happy new year celebration and see you back here in 2011!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Finding Time To Write

I complain frequently about how difficult it is to fit writing time in around the day job.

It is rare for me to have a day I can dedicate completely to writing, as all my weekdays are spent at work and my weekends are then spent doing those chores I don't have time to do during the week.

This time of year, however, I usually have about ten days off work. Even accounting for the madness of the Christmas festivities, that still gives me several days I can spend at home, dedicated entirely to writing if I chose to do so.

But do I get more writing done on those days? Sadly, no. If I spend the day at home, I find too many distractions. I waste time watching TV or playing computer games. When I do put my butt in the chair in front of the computer, I find myself stopping to make myself endless cups of tea, or wandering off in search of biscuits. Or one of the cats will come along and sit on my keyboard, making it rather difficult to get any typing done.

I seem to function better with the pressure of deadlines. Those mornings I crawl out of bed at 5:30am to sit in Starbucks for an hour before work I get more words written than I do sitting at home for an afternoon. Knowing I've only got an hour makes me obliged to write the words. If I know I've got six hours with nothing more important to do, the pressure is off and I'm much more inclined to get sidetracked doing something less important.

It seems I'm not yet disciplined enough to be a full time writer. I'm only an effective writer when I have deadlines. When I know my writing time is limited, I have to get on and do it.

Perhaps there's some truth to the old saying, "if you want something done, give it to a busy person". And perhaps I should stop whingeing about not having any time. When I have time, I am more inclined to waste it. When my time is limited, I make better use of it.

So I shall keep up my early-morning writing sessions, because they are proving to be the most effective time to write. I shall endeavour to complain less about not having any time. After all, we all have the same number of hours in our day. It's how we use them - there's the trick.

Perhaps one day I shall be ready to be a full-time writer. Until that time, I've got a lot more to learn about discipline.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A little holiday cheer

My favorite thing about the holiday season is hearing some of my favorite Christmas songs. I've got a playlist we'll listen to a few times before retiring it for another year. It's fairly diverse and includes both old classics and new songs. Here's three of my favorites.

Elvis Presley and Martina McBride, Blue Christmas

This was created by taking footage from the 1968 Elvis Comeback Special and combining it with new video of Martina. The song Blue Christmas is an old favorite of mine but this video is a favorite because my uncle, a music video producer in Nashville, was one of the video producers.

The Killers, Don't Shoot Me Santa

I never get tired of this one, both the song and the video. The hideous Christmas sweaters alone make the video worth watching. The song is catchy as can be, too.

Jackson Browne, The Rebel Jesus

Full disclosure: I'm not a Christian. However, I do find it sad that the name of Jesus is so frequently used to justify hatred, bigotry, selfishness, and greed. This song is a beautiful reminder of an alternative view of the teachings of Jesus, one that even an agnostic like myself can be moved by.

Whatever, however, you celebrate in this time of multiple holidays, large gatherings, and time with loved ones, I wish you peace and joy. Happy holidays!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Over-Writing Vs Under-Writing

In the January 2011 issue of 'Writing Magazine' (a mag I would, incidentally, recommend all writers read), Lorraine Mace discusses the fact that writers fall into two categories when it comes to writing first drafts: over-writers and under-writers. The former group end up with a first draft containing too many words; the latter end up with too few.

Over-writers end up having to murder their darlings in re-writes. Like Lorraine Mace, I am an under-writer. My first drafts are rarely more than 50,000 words. I tend to stick to the facts in the early drafts. I don't worry myself with little things like description in the first draft. Or sub-plot.

So, serial under-writers like me have to spend several drafts fleshing out the story. It's one reason why I don't let anyone read my first drafts. If my first draft was a person, it would not only be naked, but have bare bones visible through the flesh - a stark and somewhat scary being really not fit to be seen in public.

Over-writers on the other hand have to go at the manuscript with a sharp object, hacking away all the excess flesh that's dragging down the plot and making the manuscript unwieldy and unmanageable.

The problem I have with being an under-writer is that when it comes to the second and third drafts, in a desperate attempt to increase the word count, I will sometimes overcompensate by adding too much unnecessary padding (a fact I'm sure my editor can verify). The final draft has to be a careful balance - enough description to add atmosphere and flavour; not so much that the manuscript has become an unwieldy tome.

Thankfully, that's why first drafts exist. They're allowed to be rubbish. By the time it gets to the fifth or sixth draft, my WIP will emerge, blinking, into the light, hopefully a halfway presentable manuscript.

So over-writer or under-writer? Which are you?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Free is always the right price

I'm back from my mini blogging break with a short post about a couple of useful links for writers.

One of the most important things a writer needs to do is back up their files. Not once a month, or once a week, but every time you make a change in a manuscript. You can of course use a flash drive or external hard drive for that, but then you have to remember - and take the time - to actually move files around and/or copy and paste. When I relied on a flash drive I would constantly forget to back up whatever I was working on and would wind up deleting what I had on the flash drive and basically starting over with copying and pasting files every few months. Eventually I tried a service called Dropbox which provides free online storage of up to 2 GB, with the possibility of getting more through referrals. 2 GB is an awful lot of text files. It starts you out with two folders, one labeled for photos and one labeled "Public." Every folder you create will remain private unless you designate otherwise. I deleted both of those starter folders and all of my stuff is private. The easiest way to back up your files is to work out of your Dropbox folder on your computer. That way everything syncs automatically, so no more having to remember to copy and paste anymore. Take a look at Dropbox, and if you sign up at this link it counts as a referral for me.

Another great service with a free option is Mail Chimp. This one is for newsletters. Earlier in the year I toyed with using an announcement-only Google group as a way to do a newsletter but I didn't like it. I've tried to pay attention to what other authors do and found a service with a free option. I think I'm going to like Mail Chimp. You can customize what your subscription page looks like as well as the newsletter itself. Here's the link to subscribe to mine. I'm going to be sending out a monthly newsletter on the last day of the month and I'm hoping to have exclusive content every month. For my first one I think I will include an excerpt from a recently finished novella. I think it's a good idea to offer this option to readers. Some readers like to keep up with the authors they read via blogs, some prefer Twitter or Facebook. Some would rather have a newsletter, so it's a good idea to put a little effort into one. It doesn't have to be long. An update on your latest work in progress, maybe some links to some of those blog posts you work so hard on, and some exclusive newsletter-only content is a good idea. Excerpts or flash fiction would be a good idea. It's not strictly necessary, though. Mostly you just want to remind readers that you, and more importantly your books, are still out there, so don't forget the cover art and buy links for your latest release.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Beginnings, Middles and Endings

I have had many a discussion in the past about what makes a book "good". I am willing to concede this is a matter of personal preference. A book might be superior in its language, and win all kinds of literary prizes. But that doesn't mean I'm going to like it.

Other books might tell a great story, but the writing style leaves a lot to be desired. They still manage to be mega best sellers ([cough] Dan Brown [cough] Stephenie Meyer).

I admit to being fairly simplistic in my literary tastes. I like a beginning, a middle, and an end. I like things to occur in chronological order. I like plenty of action. There has to be death, and danger (and preferably a bit of gore). This is what draws me to horror, crime and urban fantasy - on the whole, these genres have plenty of excitement, the characters face danger, and blood gets spilled.

A few years ago I read - and really hated - Donna Tartt's "The Little Friend". It started off well. A 12-year-old girl goes sleuthing to discover who murdered the brother who was killed before she was born. A mystery, then. I got quite engrosed in following her journey as she picks up clues.

But the book comes to an abrupt end without revealing who the killer is. That's an unsatisfactory ending. Fans of "The Little Friend" tend to say that the book is not about the murder, it's about the main character's emotional journey through adolescence. But you know what? That sort of journey just doesn't have enough action for my liking. And to introduce a murder mystery in a plot and not solve it? Well, that's just cheating.

I may never win any literary prizes in my writing career. I'm not even claiming to be all that good a writer. I just want to tell a story that has a beginning, a middle and and end. And preferably a horrible death somewhere along the line.

'Genre' fiction gets bad press sometimes, perceived as somewhat low-brow. But I'm happy to stick with my crime, horror and urban fantasy stories. Generally I'm in for an enjoyable read. And I'm also fairly confident I'll get a proper ending.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Writing Lesson #6: Discovering Technology

Note: Sara is on holiday so I'm posting this on her behalf.

About the time I started submitting short stories, I began to think about investing in one of those newfangled devices called a ‘word processor’.

In high school I took typing classes, and before I left school I typed out all of my stories. But once I started submitting, it didn’t take long for the copies to get pretty dog-eared. Unprofessional, I thought, and I was trying to build up a reputation as a ‘serious’ writer.

So, in the late 1980s, once I started working and earning money, I invested in my first word processor. It was an Amstrad PCW. It had a black screen and green type. It didn’t have a hard drive – instead everything was saved on three-and-a-half inch floppy disks.

As I’ve already mentioned, I was very well entrenched in a writing routine that involved hand writing the first draft. In pencil. When I got the word processor I began to rethink this. After all, it was so easy to make amendments on the word processor – everything could be changed on screen. Surely I would save myself time (and paper) by typing directly onto the screen, making amendments and then printing out the final copy.
Being a creature of habit, it took me a while to get used to doing things this way. Change is not something that comes naturally to me (I think I’ve mentioned that before, too).

But the Amstrad heralded the start of a new writing routine. The first draft got typed directly onto the computer. Because of the limitations of those early floppy disks, which really did not have much in the way of memory, I got into the habit of saving each chapter as a separate file. It took three or four disks, as I recall, to save an entire novel this way.

Now, of course, the modern PC will let you save huge files, But because I am a creature of habit, I still work this way. I still start a new file for each chapter when I am in draft stage. I start a new sub-folder for each new draft.

This has been my writing process for over 20 years now. I couldn’t go back to writing that first draft in pencil even if I wanted to – and yet I still remember how difficult it was for me to break the old routine and type directly onto the computer.

The next turning point in the learning curve of my writing processes came when I joined a writing group. That’s the subject of the next post in this series.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Don't be this guy

This is painfully funny, but it's also an accurate representation of how some people view writing and publishing. Don't be this guy. You wouldn't want to make anybody's heart stop, would you?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Writing Lesson #5: First Acceptance

Note: Sara is on holiday so I'm posting this on her behalf.

When I finished school in 1988, I moved back to England, and began in earnest my quest to get my short stories published. I learned two things fairly quickly. First of all, the short horror story market was a rich vein (no pun intended) in the late 1980s, and there were a lot of magazines around – pro and semi pro – publishing the sort of nasty little stories I was writing.

Secondly, I was now in the grown-up world and things were very different. As a minor, everyone had been terribly supportive of my writing – presumably not wishing to crush my fragile adolescent soul. But once I passed the age of 18, I was an adult – at least in British law – and I was just one of many people writing and submitting. I was not a special little snowflake, and my form rejection letters reflected that.

It was a harsh lesson, but I’d been researching the whole process of submitting, and I’d come to understand that one must expect rejection, and not take it personally. I’d also been researching where to send my stories. One day browsing the newsagents in my lunch break (as I’d left school and entered adulthood, I’d also entered the scary world of Working for a Living), I came across a magazine called FEAR. As well as articles and reviews on books and movies in the horror genre – and covers that would offend most people of a fragile nature – they featured short stories by new writers in every issue. Aha, a market for me, I thought, and after buying and studying an issue, I sent to them a story called “The Top Floor”. I’d written it at age 17, and it was about a young man who goes to visit his friend in his new apartment, and stumbles across a ghostly re-enactment of a murderer who butchered his family in the apartment block years before.

It was a story with flaws, there is no doubt about that. But it was set on Friday October 13 (yes, it was also full of clichés) and 1989 – the year I submitted it to FEAR – was a year that October 13 happened to fall on a Friday. I think this appealed to the editors. They accepted the story, and it appeared in the Hallowe’en issue that year. They also paid me £50 for this.

I admit I got a little smug. I was 19, I’d just sold a story for what was, I thought at the time, a considerable amount of money, and I thought I’d got it made.

Sadly, reality swiftly crept in. That £50 was a lot of money. It’s more than I’ve ever made, collectively, from my writing in the 21 years since then, including all the royalties I’ve had from SUFFER THE CHILDREN.

I learned I couldn’t give up the day job if I was to continue writing. But I also learned that what I was writing was publishable, and it paid to be persistent.

The rejection letters continued to come, but I framed that first acceptance letter and to this day it hangs on the wall in my ‘writing corner’, to remind me of the day I first became a ‘proper’ writer.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Art of Writing Well

Something I've decided to learn was authentic French cooking from French recipes and what I've noticed is unlike the American versions of the very same recipes, the original French recipes are often long, involved, and take a lot of patience. For example take chocolate mousse. The American version of this recipe is made with very few ingredients and takes no more than forty-five minutes of active cooking time. The result is a nice dessert, but nothing spectacular. However, the French version is much more involved taking a little over an hour of active cooking time. You start with warm cream, then add that to eggs and sugar before heating it to 160 degrees Fahrenheit making something that looks like a custard. Then you slowly melt the bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler, adding sugar and whisking. Once the chocolate is ready, you mix them all together. Now in the American version, you shortcut and add gelatin to give the mousse its texture and stick it in the freezer for an hour or two and its done. In the french, you have to whip cream until stiff peaks form (do not use cool whip, you do not need anymore sugar) than slowly whisk the cream into the mousse and chill for six hours.

The results of this intensive and slow going process is an immensely decadent dessert full of body and rich with flavor. Something that eating only a couple of teaspoons full will satisfy your sweet tooth (which is one of the many reasons french food is served in much smaller portions--its rich and filling) but it's a food that you'll crave more of.

What does this talk of food have to do with writing?

Well, I was illustrating a point. How many times have you stumbled upon a piece of writing, be it a novel or short story, that just seemed hurried and sloppily but together? You'll read it, but it doesn't leave you wanting more.

But a story that's been well crafted, every detail properly measured, descriptions that are rich and used only as needed, characters that are full of body--that leaves you wanting more. That's a story that's worthy of devouring.

The point is this, the art of writing is very much like the art of french cooking, while there may be shortcuts, they're not necessarily good for you. Sometimes you have to take the slow going long road. When you take your time and lovingly put in the effort needed for the entire process from conception to editing, the result is a tale full of body, rich and decadent, that once you get a spoonful, you'll want a whole helping.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Buy books!

Here in the US today, the day after Thanksgiving, is the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. The very best gift for any and everyone is of course books. It's easy to get someone to make up a list of a few books they'd like to have, and easy to order those books online if you don't have the time or inclination to shop at a brick and mortar full of holiday crowds. If you don't have a list of preferred books for someone you can always rely on the trusty gift certificate. Amazon even lets you give Kindle books as gifts now (but if you live outside the US make sure you check into geographic restrictions before doing so.)

I've got far too many fiction books on my wish list to mention here, but there is one non-fiction book I'd love to have. The Secret History of Rock 'N' Roll by Christopher Knowles would be a great addition to my collection of music books. What's on your wish list for holidays books?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Buffy vs Edward

I'm going back to Buffy for this week's post. It must be no secret by now, even to those new to this blog, that I'm a sad geeky Buffy fan.

Non-geeks, however, sometimes make the mistake of assuming if I like Buffy, I also like Twilight. After all, they're both about teenage girls who fall in love with sexy vampires, aren't they?

To a Buffy geek, this is a sacrilege. I could go on at length about why Buffy is miles away from Twilight, without even touching the quality of the writing.

Buffy is an independent minded young woman who kicks vampire butt. One of the main themes of at least the first few seasons is that she's not only the Chosen One, she's also an ordinary teenage girl dealing with the demons of High School. For most people, the demons of High School are metaphorical. Hers happen to be literal.

Yes, Buffy loves a vampire. But in the end she realises that the relationship is going nowhere and she has to leave him (and I am talking about Angel here - I never really believed Buffy was in love with Spike, but we'll leave that argument for another time). On the other hand, I believe Bella ends up marrying her vampire, even though a human/vampire relationship is problematic at best (and I've discussed that on this blog before).

But really, I think the best argument for proving why Buffy is better than Twilight can be found in the wonderful YouTube video 'Buffy vs Edward'.

I present Exhibit A.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Note, on this, The Witching Hour Release Day

Believe it or not, writing a book is easier than writing a 250-500 word blog post for me. This post comes a bit early because I am both full of nerves and exceedingly excited for what Monday brings.

The Witching Hour, my second novel produced by a publishing house will be available as of midnight 11/22/2010. Yes I am planning promotions for it, including a 24 hour twitter QA session beginning at 12E/11Central, but that's not what's giving me the jitters.

I have the jitters because believe it or not, writing a book is a very intimate and personal experience. Even if your book becomes published, there is still a piece of you that stays with the book. Perhaps its the late nights, the hours spent painstakingly ensuring that every word is the best one to optimally tell the story, or the emails at 2am on the day of a deadline saying its still not right from your editor (yes, I really did get an email at 2am and nearly lost it. I swear I had a temporary mental breakdown at that point and the BF helped me through it). That said, a book is like a little piece of the author--not physically or even spiritually--but its like a tiny fragment of the imagination that's been given a world and domain all its own, for the enjoyment of others. And once its out there, you can't take it back.

The Witching Hour stemmed from an idea that had nothing to do with the book's plot. Lucky Sands, Tuesday Peters and all the other characters that inhabit their world came from conversations with a dear friend over lunches and coffee breaks. I still remember talking about the book's world, which all came from little inside jokes and eventually evolved into much more. And throughout the book, there are hundreds of slivers of those inside jokes, that help make up the dialogue, scenes, and even some of the character's personalities.

The Witching Hour, besides being a story set up to be a modern day myth, is a book of secrets and hidden truths. Its a mystery, a love story, a tale of friendship, and more importantly a story about people thrust into a situation beyond their control only to overcome the odds. Its full of themes that anyone can identify with all wrapped up in a fictional tale.

I hope you enjoy The Witching Hour. You're reading a part of me. :-)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hatching plots

I've always been what's called a pantser, writing by the seat of my pants without knowing where the story might wind up. That's not working for me anymore. Too many times lately, work on a manuscript has come to a halt because I didn't know what happened next. That was okay when I was writing for my own amusement but now I'd like to get paid for my work, even it's just enough to buy books. One of the best ways to do that is to keep writing and keep publishing. Spending a week or more figuring out how to get from Point G to Point H, in the middle of writing the novel, and probably having to do it again a few more times, doesn't exactly help with that goal. I've tried outlining before but never successfully. I'd get a few steps into it and get impatient and start writing. Only to stop at some point because I didn't know what happened next, or I had a new character to introduce and didn't know enough about them, or some other problem. So I've decided I've got to start preparing complete outlines. I'm going to use the snowflake method and instead of stopping at step two and half, I'm going to complete the thing. And then write the damn book (that would be Step 10 on the list I made for reference.)

Are you a pantser or a plotter? If you're a plotter, what method do you use? If you're a pantser, how do you deal with an uncooperative story?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Writing Lesson #4: Going To Market

I discovered horror in grade 8, when I was 14. I picked up DIFF’RENT SEASONS in the school library. I enjoyed that so much I went looking for more. The next King book I read was CARRIE. That was possibly a turning point. I identified with Carrie, the high school loser with no friends. In fact I rather wished I possessed her ability to instigate the violent and painful death of everyone who gave her a hard time. In any case, I was hooked on King.

I was also in Mrs Riepert’s English class that year, and we were given an assignment to write a horror story. We started with brainstorming titles. As everyone called out titles, mine came suddenly, unprompted, into my mind: TERROR IN TANNER’S FIELD. It’s probably the only time in my writing career I have come up with the title before the story – usually the title comes to me at the end. TERROR IN TANNER’S FIELD was about ten teenagers who go on a camping trip, and unearth an evil entity that possesses them and makes them murder each other.

I had to read the story out loud in front of the class and it seemed to go down well with my classmates, in particular my science lab partner, Rob Vukovic, who was a fan of the genre. He told me repeatedly that year I ought to write more horror. He’s probably not given me a thought in 25 years or more, but I guess I was listening, because by the time I got to high school I was a horror convert.

I decided to turn TERROR IN TANNER’S FIELD into a novel. I finished it when I was 17. I didn’t have a computer in those days (we are talking circa 1987 here). The first draft of TITF was written in pencil, as was my process by then, and then I redrafted it in pen. But my uncle had one of those newfangled devices called a word processor, and he volunteered to type it out for me. I handed over the handwritten pages, and he duly returned the manuscript to me in the form of three printouts and a 5 1/4-inch floppy disk (remember those?) with the files on it.

TERROR IN TANNER’S FIELD became the first novel I sent out into the big wide world. I really had no idea where to start. I went to the library and picked up a few books in the teenage horror range – which at that point was still a strange new genre – and looked up the publisher’s address on the title page. That’s where I sent my manuscript- in its entirety. I didn’t know about the etiquette of query letters, or sending only the first three chapters. I’m not even sure if I remembered return postage, although older and wiser people may have pointed out to me the wisdom of doing this, if I wanted the precious package returned.

Those initial queries came back fairly swiftly, with kind and encouraging rejection letters that basically said the publisher was always pleased to hear from young people who liked to write (I had mentioned my age in the cover letter; the publishers had all decided to be gentle), and my writing showed promise, but I needed a bit more practice before it would be ready for publication.

After racking up a few rejection letters, I started to wonder if maybe I was aiming too high. It was getting expensive to keep sending the novel out, and not many publishers were dealing with teenage horror in those days.

Then I thought, perhaps I should lower the bar. So I put TERROR IN TANNER’S FIELD in a drawer, and looked towards my short stories instead. Perhaps it would be easier to start small, and get some of those published first, my 17-year-old self reasoned.

I still had a lot of lessons to learn about writing, and submitting, at that point. But one of the things I learned fairly on was that rejection was all part of the process.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Little Taste of Celtic Mythology

First off, let me apologize for missing last Monday. There were some family issues going on that needed to be made a priority.

Now, this Monday (which is being posted a little early) I'll be posting a story called The Children of Lir in its adaption by Mara Freeman.

The Children of Lir

Out of the world's thread, fates' fingers spinning. Some lives are shot with gold, others with shadow. This is a tale of enchantment and exile, of four lives woven together by white swan's feather, storm and ice and the sound of a little bell.

Long ago, when the high gods and goddesses known as the Tuatha de Danaan lived in Ireland, before they were driven into the hollow hills to become the faery folk, there was a great king whose name was Lir. And this Lir had four lovely children - Fionnuala, Conn, Fiacra and Aodh. Fionnuala was the eldest, and she was as fair as the young rowan tree; her brothers Fiacra and Conn were swift and strong as running water, and Aodh was a little bright-eyed baby boy. Everyone in Lir's court on the Hill of the White Field loved them - except their stepmother, Aoifa, who was jealous of their father's love for them. And her hatred pursued them as the wolf pursues the fawn.

One day, she took them in her chariot to the lake of Darvra to bathe in the waters. But as they played on the shore's edge, laughing and splashing, catching rainbows of mist and light between their fingers, she struck them with a rod of enchantment, and turned them into four white swans.

"You will swim on this lake for three hundred years," she said, "then three hundred years on the narrow sea of Moyle, and three hundred years on the isles of the Western Sea. This only will I grant you: that you shall still have human voices and there will be no music in the world sweeter than yours. And so shall you stay until a druid with a shaven crown comes over the seas, and you hear the sound of a little bell."

The swans spread their wings and rose up, circling the lake, and as they flew they sang their sorrow in the voices of human children. When the king found out what had happened, he banished Aoifa from his court for ever, and he rode like the wind to the lake and called his children to him. "Come Fionnuala, come Conn, come Aodh, come Fiacra!" And there they came, flying to him over the lake: four white swans, and they huddled sadly around him as he knelt by the water's edge.

King Lir said through his tears, "I cannot give you back your shapes till the spell is ended, but come with me now to the house that is mine and yours, dear white children of my heart."

But the swan that was Fiacra said, "We cannot cross your threshold father, for we have the hearts of wild swans. We must fly into the dusk and feel the wave moving beneath us. Only our voices are of the children you knew, and the songs you taught us - that is all. Gold crowns are red in the firelight, but redder and fairer far is the dawn on the water."

The king reached out his hand to touch them, but the swans rose into the air, and their voices were lost in the sound of beating wings.

* * * * * * * * *

Three hundred years they flew over Lake Darvra and swam upon its waters. Many came to listen to their singing, for their songs brought joy to those in sorrow and lulled the sick to sleep. But when three hundred years were over, the swans rose suddenly and flew away to the straits of Moyle that flow between Scotland and Ireland. A cold, stormy sea it was and lonely. The swans had no-one to listen to their songs, and little heart for singing on the wild and chanting sea. Then one winter, a great storm rushed upon them and scattered them far into the dark and pitiless night.

In the pale morning, Fionnuala fetched up on the Carraig-na-Ron, the Rock of Seals. Her feathers were broken and bedraggled with salt sea-water, and she lamented long for her brothers, fearing never to see them again. But at last she sees Conn limping towards her, his feathers soaked, his head hanging, and now Fiacra, tired and faint, unable to speak a word for the cold. Her heart gave them a great welcome, and she sheltered Conn under her right wing and Fiacra under her left.

"Now," said Fionnuala, "if only Aodh would come to us, we would be happy indeed." And as the first evening star rose in the sky, they catch sight of the little swan that is Aodh paddling valiantly over the waves towards them. Fionnuala held him close under the feathers of her breast. As they huddled together, the water froze their feet and wing-tips to the rock, so that when they flew up, skin and feathers remained behind.

In the morning they turned westward towards the island of Glora in the Western Sea, and settled on the Lake of Birds till three hundred more years had passed . Then at last the Children of Lir soared homeward to the Hill of the White Field - but they found all desolate and empty, with nothing but roofless green raths and forests of nettles: no house, no fire, no hearthstone. Gone were the packs of dogs and drinking horns, silent the songs in lighted halls. And that was the greatest sorrow of all - that there lived no-one who knew them in the house where they were born. They rested the night in that desolate place, singing very softly the sweet music of the sidhe.

At dawn they returned to the island, and it was about this time that blessèd Patrick came into Ireland to spread the faith of Christ. One of his followers, Saint Kemoc, built a little church by the lake-shore on the Isle of Glora. In a break of day, the saint arose from his heather bed, wrapping his rough brown robe around him to keep out the chill, and rang the bell for matins. On the other side of the island, the swans started up and stretched their necks in fear.

"What is that dreadful thin sound we hear?" said the brothers.

Fionnuala said, "That is the sound of the bell of Kemoc and soon our enchantment will be passing away."

They began to sing gladly and the sweet strains of faery music floated across the lake and in through the reed walls of the cell. St. Kemoc rose in wonder and walked down to the shore's edge, and saw them, lit by the morning sun: four white swans singing with the voices of children! They came to rest at the saint's feet and told him their story and he brought them to his little church. Every day they would hear Mass with him, sitting on the altar. Their beauty gladdened his heart and the heart of the swans were at peace.

Then one day Fionnuala asked the saint to baptize them, but no sooner did the holy water touch the swans than their feathers fell away, and in their place stood three lean withered old men, and a thin withered old woman. In a cracked whisper, the woman that was Fionnuala said:

"Bury us, cleric, in one grave. Lay Conn on my left, and Fiacra on my right, and on my breast place Aodh, my baby brother."

So they were buried, a cairn was raised above them, and their names written in Ogham. And that was the fate of the Children of Lir.

But it is said, that on windy days in the west of Ireland, by lake-shore or ocean strand, you can sometimes hear children’s voices in the air, singing sweeter than you’ve ever heard, as they play with their father at home in the blessed Summerland.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Moral of the Story

One of my recent library finds was a popular paranormal YA novel called Hush Hush. I read it because the jacket copy sounded good, completely unaware of any controversy about the book. It started out fairly well but at some point it seemed like the wheels fell off the wagon, so to speak. Ultimately I decided it was an okay read, but I won't be looking for the sequel.

What was my problem with it? Mainly a strong sense of déjà vu, otherwise known as "hey this is almost exactly like Twilight!" But I will say this: I thought the writing was better overall, and though heroine Nora was just as boring as Bella, in contrast with Edward bad boy Patch was not boring. He was closer to what Edward should have been, but since (in my opinion) Meyer didn't really want to write a "bad boy" character despite making him a vampire, Edward was flat and boring and far too much of a Mary Sue, robbing the story of tension. Hush Hush did not lack for tension, which is probably why I had enough interest in it to finish.

The controversy I discovered after reading the book is not about the resemblance to Twilight exactly, but about how both books seem to glorify the whole "stalker boyfriends are sexy" idea. It's true there is plenty of creepy behavior in both books - Edward sneaking into Bella's room to watch her sleep, Patch trying to kill Nora to break his curse. The fact that these two stories fell flat for me personally has nothing to do with this aspect of the plots. I mean, I love Spike, okay? Spike was the king of Inappropriate Behavior By A Suitor. I think these books should be judged on the strength of the writing and the power of the story, not on whether they conform to a certain morality or political correctness. It is not the job of fiction to teach people the difference between fiction and reality. We all know if a guy breaks into our room to watch us sleep, it's time to call the cops and for the guy to get some therapy. That's what I would teach a daughter who might want to read these books. Fiction is fiction, and reality is reality. Although fiction can be a mirror of reality, it doesn't have to be. The story doesn't always have to have a polite, well-mannered  moral. That is one of the freedoms we can enjoy with escapist fiction.

Having said that, I do think a lot of the critics of this Stalker Boyfriend subgenre are missing a salient point. To me, these are redemption stories. Maybe that distills things too simplistically for people who want to write a dissertation on how Twilight is anti-feminist, or anti-whatever, but I think those people are reading way, WAY too much into these books. My problems with Twilight can be summed up in four words: boring vampires, and Breaking Dawn. Neither of those things has any relation to the vast majority of criticism thrown at the series. I think it would be perfectly fine if an author wrote a book about a teenage girl who falls for the bad boy, realizes he's a creepy obsessive stalker, dumps him, and then starts dating the sweet nerdy guy who's always been a good friend to her. I'd read that book and if it was well-written and engaging, tell everyone about it. If an author wants to write a book about a girl that falls for the guy who frequently crosses the line from Alpha Male to Stalker Boyfriend, and she loves him anyway, well, if it's well-written and engaging, I'll read it and tell people it's a good book. I'll repeat this point: it's not the job of fiction to teach people the difference between fiction and reality. Even Young Adult fiction.

Thoughts? Comments? Disagreements?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Coveting Neil Gaiman's Library

I am very, very far away from earning enough money writing to give up the day job. Indeed, I may never actually get to that stage.

But this doesn't stop me occasionally fantasising about what I would buy if I not only got to the stage where I could earn a living on my earnings as a writer, but live very well off my earnings as a writer.

The first thing I'd do is buy myself a house that was big enough for me to be able to set aside one room to be a dedicated library. A few years ago I came across this picture of Neil Gaiman's library (picture credit: Ever since then, I've coveted Mr Gaiman's library.

Just thinking about it gets me all excited. Imagine - a room stuffed full of books, floor to ceiling. All my books in one place. All ordered by subject, genre or author (they would have to be, naturally). Probably even catalogued. There'd be a nice comy sofa or two for a reading corner. And it would be all mine.

My husband and I are both bibliophiles, and we have a three-bedroomed house that is overflowing with books - hence, one of the appeals of e-books is the fact they take up no space. There are books in pretty much every room of the house. And boxes and boxes of them in the attic, where we've already had to stash the ones there's no room for but we can't bear to get rid of.

So, I dream of my own personal library. Much like Mr Gaiman's. If I had this library, though, I would have to set up my writing station elsewhere in the house, where there aren't any books. I wouldn't get a lot of writing done in the library; I'd get distracted by all the pretty books.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The business side of writing

I came across an article that I don't want to link to because a) it's terrible and b) the point of the article is not what I want to talk about in this post. There were a couple of sentences that made me think of something - the proliferation of how-to books for writers. That led me to think about all the ways writers can spend money on advancing their career.

There is no shortage of people who will take your money if you're a writer and think you need to pay for help. I can remember buying Writer's Digest magazine years ago. Mostly it just added to my recycle pile. I'm not saying there's nothing there of value, but it was of no use to me at that time. Maybe now I would find more in it that would be useful, but I don't want a magazine subscription anymore.

There's probably several forests worth of how-to books on writing. I've spent a grand total of twenty dollars on such: Stephen King's On Writing and Strunk and White's Elements of Style. There may be a few other good ones out there but I think this is a real "buyer beware" area. I'm not the biggest fan of self-help books and I think there is a very fine line between self-help books and many of the writing how-to books that are out there. The very best money you can spend on books that will help you learn the craft of writing is on fiction. Read a lot, read widely, read, read, read. In your genre, out of your genre, just read. It will do more for your writing than any how-to on the market.

There are plenty of websites that claim they can help you with networking and publicity for a nominal fee. Maybe they work, I really don't know. It would be interesting to hear from someone who has used those pay sites and find out if it helped their sales. To be honest, I don't have the disposable income to afford a bunch of memberships. As a reader, I rely more on review blogs to learn about new books, but maybe other readers do look at these sites. It does kind of seem like they are more or less marketing to other authors, which is something you can do for free on your own in various ways. But again, I don't know. Just because I don't use these sites as a reader doesn't mean other readers don't.

There are organizations you can join, too. From what I can tell most of the big ones require you to have a deal with a traditional publisher, in which case you can probably afford the organization's membership fees. I do think it would be worth it to join the Romance Writer's of America (the RWA does not require you to already have a traditional contract, but be serious in pursuing a career in writing romance and it's sub-genres.) There's a chapter in Nashville where I could attend meetings. Two things hold me back: money (as always) and the fact that I still write mostly urban fantasy. I do find myself edging into paranormal romance territory more and more often, though, so it would probably be okay for me to join the RWA.

There is an organization for writers in digital publishing, called EPIC. I haven't joined it because of a) money and b) I don't know why. I think I feel like I'm still too new at this to think of myself as being remotely professional. To be honest, I'm not very good at the business side of writing. I try, but I don't think I'm doing a very good job at that side of things. I may join EPIC next year but I'm not sure.

In my opinion there's only two things you absolutely have to spend money on: the filing fee for  your copyright, and that's only after you get the final copy of your work from your publisher, and a domain. I spent ten dollars to turn my personal blog into my own domain. I went that route because I don't know how to code or design a website but I do know how to work Blogger.

People will tell you that you have to do this, that, and the other in order to "build your platform" or "advance your career" or whatever phrase they want to use. When what they are telling you involves you, the writer, spending a lot of your own money it's either because they want you to buy their service or they have plenty of money of their own to spend. Money can be a very touchy subject. Aspiring writers often don't like to hear that if they're in this because they want homes in three states like John Grisham, they might as well give that dream up. Very, very few writers make anywhere near that kind of money. If I ever get to the point where I make the equivalent of minimum wage from my writing, that will feel like a major accomplishment. I have to take that into account when I consider how much money to spend on my "career" - how much of a return on investment am I likely to see? I spent way too much money on promotional book cover cards that very few people wanted - lesson learned. It always pays to think through your promotional investments. If your book will be digital-only, why are you considering promotional bookmarks? Maybe business cards would be a better idea.

There's a lot to think about when it comes to handling the financial side of your writing career. This post just scratched the surface, with no mention of business licenses and taxes, or working within US publishing from another country. The most important thing you can do is homework - find out as much as you can before spending any money. And think things through. Imagine this scenario: you're in a bookstore, you've got twenty dollars burning a hole in your pocket, and there are two books that have drawn your attention. One is a how-to, with some crazy title like Write That Novel In a Flash! (Exclamation point included.) The other is the newest release by an author who never fails to drag you into their fictional world. Think about which one you're more likely to learn from about the art and craft of writing.

With any luck that novel is a paperback and you can afford a cup of coffee, too.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Writing Lesson #3: Isaac Asimov & Short Stories

I never saw "Star Wars" when it first came out. I first saw it on video, in 1982. I was on the brink of puberty, and it triggered a life-long obsession.

It also led to an interest in science fiction during my teenage years, and I devoured a great many of the classic sf writers – Ray Bradbury; Frank Herbert; Arthur C Clarke; Isaac Asimov.

Up to that point, everything I wrote was novel length. It never occurred to me to write anything shorter. I would have an idea for a plot and there would be a definite beginning, middle and end. All the characters had to have full names, and life histories, and all of this information would find its way into the story, as would a detailed physical description of each character.

However, when I discovered – and was completely bowled over by – Isaac Asimov, I made a point of reading every book of his I could find at the library. This included a couple of collections of short stories. I hadn’t read much short fiction before then. Indeed, I never realised there was a market for it. But I was impressed at the conciseness of Asimov’s short fiction. Through his stories, I learned that you didn’t have to include a convoluted life story of your characters. If a novel was a movie of a character’s life, a short story was a snapshot. It was just a moment in time. What they were doing before, or after, that moment wasn’t particularly relevant. It wasn’t necessary to have a detailed physical description of the character, nor was it necessary, in some cases, for them to even have a last name.

And this was a revelation. So, in a very real sense, Isaac Asimov taught me how to write short stories.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mythology Monday #3

Welcome to this edition of Mythology Monday and Happy NaNo everyone.

This week I am going to post the Greek story of Apollo and Daphne. Daphne was Apollo's first human love thanks to a cruel trick by cupid and as all stories that involve gods loving mortals, it doesn't end well.


Daphne and Apollo (adapted from Thomas Bullfinch's Mythology *Work is in the public domain)

Daphne was Apollo's first love. It was not brought about by accident, but by the malice of Cupid. Apollo saw the boy playing with his bow and arrows; and being himself elated with his recent victory over Python, he said to him, "What have you to do with warlike weapons, saucy boy? Leave them for hands worthy of them, Behold the conquest I have won by means of them over the vast serpent who stretched his poisonous body over acres of the plain! Be content with your torch, child, and kindle up your flames, as you call them, where you will, but presume not to meddle with my weapons." Venus's boy heard these words, and rejoined, "Your arrows may strike all things else, Apollo, but mine shall strike you." So saying, he took his stand on a rock of Parnassus, and drew from his quiver two arrows of different workmanship, one to excite love, the other to repel it. The former was of gold and ship pointed, the latter blunt and tipped with lead. With the leaden shaft he struck the nymph Daphne, the daughter of the river god Peneus, and with the golden one Apollo, through the heart. Forthwith the god was seized with love for the maiden, and she abhorred the thought of loving. Her delight was in woodland sports and in the spoils of the chase. lovers sought her, but she spurned them all, ranging the woods, and taking no thought of Cupid nor of Hymen. Her father often said to her, "Daughter, you owe me a son-in-law; you owe me grandchildren." She, hating the thought of marriage as a crime, with her beautiful face tinged all over with blushes, threw her arms around her father's neck, and said, "Dearest father, grant me this favour, that I may always remain unmarried, like Diana." He consented, but at the same time said, "Your own face will forbid it."

Apollo loved her, and longed to obtain her; and he who gives oracles to all the world was not wise enough to look into his own fortunes. He saw her hair flung loose over her shoulders, and said, "If so charming, in disorder, what would it be if arranged?" He saw her eyes bright as stars; he saw her lips, and was not satisfied with only seeing them. He admired her hands and arms, naked to the shoulder, and whatever was hidden from view he imagined more beautiful still. He followed her; she fled, swifter than the wind, and delayed not a moment at his entreaties. "Stay," said he, "daughter of Peneus; I am not a foe. Do not fly me as a lamb flies the wolf, or a dove the hawk. It is for love I pursue you. You make me miserable, for fear you should fall and hurt yourself on these stones, and I should be the cause. Pray run slower, and I will follow slower. I am no clown, no rude peasant. Jupiter is my father, and I am lord of Delphos and Tenedos, and know all things, present and future. I am the god of song and the lyre. My arrows fly true to the mark; but, alas! an arrow more fatal than mine has pierced my heart! I am the god of medicine, and know the virtues of all healing plants. Alas! I suffer a malady that no balm. can cure!"

The nymph continued her flight, and left his plea half uttered. And even as she fled she charmed him. The wind blew her garments, and her unbound hair streamed loose behind her. The god grew impatient to find his wooings thrown away, and, sped by Cupid, gained upon her in the race. It was like a hound pursuing a hare, with open jaws ready to seize, while the feebler animal darts forward, slipping from the very grasp. So flew the god and the virgin- he on the wings of love, and she on those of fear. The pursuer is the more rapid, however, and gains upon her, and his panting breath blows upon her hair. Her strength begins to fail, and, ready to sink, she calls upon her father, the river god: "Help me, Peneus! open the earth to enclose me, or change my form, which has brought me into this danger!" Scarcely had she spoken, when a stiffness seized all her limbs; her bosom began to be enclosed in a tender bark; her hair became leaves; her arms became branches; her foot stuck fast in the ground, as a root; her face became a tree-top, retaining nothing of its former self but its beauty, Apollo stood amazed. He touched the stem, and felt the flesh tremble under the new bark. He embraced the branches, and lavished kisses on the wood. The branches shrank from his lips. "Since you cannot be my wife," said he, "you shall assuredly be my tree. I will wear you for my crown; I will decorate with you my harp and my quiver; and when the great Roman conquerors lead up the triumphal pomp to the Capitol, you shall be woven into wreaths for their brows. And, as eternal youth is mine, you also shall be always green, and your leaf know no decay." The nymph, now changed into a Laurel tree, bowed its head in grateful acknowledgment.

Friday, October 29, 2010


What is my writing process? I thought that might make a good blog topic but then I wondered, do I actually have a writing process? So I sat down and thought about it.

Sometimes I start with a character. Other times I might start with a situation, a "what if." Either way, I need a fairly solid handle on the main characters before I can get very far. After much flailing around I finally created a character worksheet. It's based on different ones I found in different sources, plus a few things of my own I felt it pertinent to know about a character. It's a four page table made in a Word doc and it includes all kinds of stuff you might or might not need to know about a character. One of the things I added was a section called "soundtrack." I need to know what kind of music suits a character best, what songs in particular, in order to really get to know them. That section will usually evolve and expand over the course of writing.

I like to at least get my plot started before having to delve into a lot of research, but sometimes that varies. Depending on what I'm writing, some form of research will be an ongoing activity during the process. Maybe I'll need to clarify something, maybe I'll need to go looking for more ideas. Internet access has made research very easy for writers now. Just be savvy about your sources. You'll want to make sure you're using a creature out of some real mythology and not something dreamed up for World of Warcraft.

Because I'm still more of a pantser than a plotter, I write myself into a corner with disturbing frequency. When that happens I have to step away from the keyboard and figure out how to get out of that corner. This is about the only time pen and paper come into my process anymore. I have a few small spiral notebooks that I use. One is dedicated to my Mojo series. Here's an example of some of what's scribbled in there on the page it's open to, if I can make out my own handwriting:
Go back to chapter 2 and start over. Blake needs to work for her trust. Why is he back? He wants Roxie but there's more to it. Has he been stealing for Paralda? Someone else? Why? Somebody have something on him? What does he want? 

Story questions that I need to answer. I don't always write the answers in the notebook - the answers get put in the manuscript. But having a place to write these questions down, and break them down with as much specificity as possible, has been an invaluable aid in getting out of those corners.

After the first draft is done, I try to let it sit a while, go work on something else if I can. When I'm ready  to start revisions I use track changes and go to town. Frequently while writing the first draft I'll make a lot of changes and fixes, as details and ideas shift. I usually do so much of that to start with that the revisions process only deals with major issues. Every writer handles that differently, though. Some writers might change a name halfway through the first draft but not go back and change the early mentions of that character until they do revisions. Me, I use find and replace as soon as I decide to change the name.

I get to a point where I cannot keep rereading on my own. I either need a critique partner or beta reader to give me feedback, or I need to consign the work to the Trunk folder, or I need to get it ready to submit. I freely admit that I cover a lot of the same themes in my work, but I can't keep rewriting the same novel over and over. There are too many voices, I mean characters, in my head for that.

This may not seem like much of a process, but then, I am pretty much a pantser. If you'd like a copy of my character worksheet I uploaded it to Google Docs at this link. You can take a look at it and if you go to File and Download As, you should be able to download it as a Word document. If that doesn't work but you do want a copy, shoot me an email at and I'll send it to you.And if you have any suggestions about what could be added, feel free to share them in the  comments.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Death By Defenestration

A quick update on the WIP...

Actually, I have two works in progress. The first one is the urban fantasy, which to be honest is going nowhere until I figure out how I can make the plot make sense.

The second one is Book 2 of the amateur sleuth series. This is moving along nicely, but I am in the early stages of Draft 1, so there's a long way to go yet.

I'm currently about 10,000 words in and I've been setting the scene and introducing characters. In fact, I've only just killed the victim. I threw him out of a window. Mwah ha ha.

Rather disturbingly, I enjoy killing people off in novels. I am a recent arrival to the crime writing scene, but I do rather enjoy it. Death features prominently in all of my writing, but the main difference between the crime novels and everything else I write is that there are no supernatural elements in the crime novels.

"Death By Defenestration" is NOT the title of this novel. But I figure it's the title for something. I rather like this. I need to find a way of using it for something other than the title of today's post!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Mythology Monday #2

Note: A storm is wreaking havoc with Ashley's internet so she asked me to get this posted for her, just in case. 

Hi all and thank you for tuning into Mythology Monday, your place for quick tidbits of mythology. I'll be doing this on Monday's leading up to the release of The Witching Hour, since mythology factors big time into the book. I thought this would be a fun way of introducing you to some of my favorite deities and mythological heroes from various pantheons as well as give you a little background to some of the more intriguing mythological figures in the book.

Last week I shared some fast facts and stories about Apollo. This week Belenus gets the spotlight.

Belenus is the Gaullish (People from Gaul)/ Celtic god of light and fire. He's sometimes compared to Apollo as he is also considered to be a sun god. At one point his cults had spread as far as Aquitaine, Austria, and Northern Italy.

In Italy, he is married to the goddess Belisama and is also in charge of protecting sheep and cattle.

The festival of Beltane (celebrated on May 1) is in honor of the "fires of Bel". On this day purifying fires were lit and cattle were driven between them before the farmers allowed the herd out to open pasture. This was done to ask for the god's blessing.

In Roman-dominated areas on the European Continent and the isle of Britain, he was associated with Apollo. One count of inscriptions inventoried by archaeologists noted that there were more dedications to Belenus than almost any Celtic other deity on the Continent. In some areas, he was a healing deity; in others, he was the protector of the town. In Ireland, only his name survives in the name of the summer feast, but we can assume that he was considered a protector of health and happiness and promoter of fertility. Which again is why he draws the comparison.
Many of stories depicted as occurring at Beltaine involve forms Belenus as a young god.

Often the young god was depicted as attempting to woo or capture a wife.

In an Irish story, spurred on by Mebh of Cruachan’s jealousy, Conall Cernach killed her husband Ailill while the latter was consorting with a woman behind a hazel-bush on Beltaine.

Hunting seasons re-opened around Beltane. Also, Beltane coincided with the part of the year when military activity—riding and hosting—resumed after the pause for winter. During the winter, professional troops—such as the fénnidi—were dispersed and quartered among a chieftain’s dependents. At Beltane, these troops were re-assembled, often living in the woods and hunting for their food. Also, once the crops were sowed, chieftains felt freer to call on their clients for the military service that was part of what a client owed his lord. So Beltane would be an appropriate time for an invasions to occur, by medieval Irish standards.

In today's world, Belenus is not an often remembered deity, but once upon a time, he was uber important. In researching the god, one finds countless examples of myths where he or his holiday hold significant importance to the ancients.

Anyway, thanks for tuning in this Monday and now back to your regularly scheduled web browsing.

Friday, October 22, 2010


National Novel Writing Month is an annual event to challenge people to write fifty thousand words in thirty days. That breaks down to 1, 667 words a day - every day - for a solid month. Some writers can do that in their sleep, and yay for them, but for some of us that truly is a challenge. The story may not be flowing smoothly every day, and regular non-writing life can frequently intrude. But during NaNo, participants try to power through the days when the muse runs off to Vegas and the day job/housework/family/everything else demand attention. The point of NaNo is simply to write. You don't have to write well, you don't have to edit as you go even if you normally do at least some revising while the story is in its first draft. You don't have to think about it too much, because frankly you don’t have the time to put too much thought into your manuscript with such a tight deadline. All you have to do is write.

That's not saying you can't outline beforehand, though. I'm normally mostly a pantser but I'm trying to get better at outlining in order to cut down on revisions and rewrites. Right now I've got the first third of my NaNo project outlined, with a pretty good idea of what the second third is going to be like. Sometime before the first of November, when NaNo starts, I'm going to work out the rest of the outline so I'm ready to go.

This will be my third NaNo. In 2008 I started Bring On The Night but didn't finish it in November and didn't get the story to fifty thousand words. In 2009 I finished, which was terrific, but the novel was such a mess I never did anything with it. (It did give me a character that will probably show up in another story eventually, though.) That's the main reason I wanted to outline this year. I'd like to not only finish this year, but have something that might be revised into a manuscript worth submitting.

I won't lie to you - it can make for a rough month. Especially the last week or so, as we head into the holidays. But pouring that much energy into a work that quickly can also give you a sort of drunken, heady buzz that helps you get through the dark moments when you feel like you couldn't possibly write another word. After I finished last year I said to myself, ok, this is something I've done and I'm never doing it again. Never. But when the first of October rolled around and I started seeing other writers talking about it online, I felt the temptation pull me back in. It can definitely lead to a reckless, slap-dash sort of writing, but it's also fun. In an "OMG I just ran across six lanes of traffic on a Friday night" sort of way.

After the first you can follow my progress at my blog or at my NaNo profile. If you're doing NaNo yourself, feel free to add me as a writing buddy and I'll do the same.

If you're doing NaNo for the first time, just remember to have fun with it, don't stress if you don't finish, and most important of all - caffeine is your friend.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Wrong Point of View

The right point of view is essential to any novel, but it's easy to get confused. Do you go with first person - ie, the narrator tells the story? It means the reader can get inside the head of the MC, but the writer is limited to the MC's experiences. Third person POV gives you the option of telling the story from the POV of more than one character.

However, a lot of writers seem to commit the cardinal sin of "head hopping" when operating in third-person POV, and this is not limited to inexperienced writers. I've picked up many published novels - released by otherwise reputable publishers - that also commit this sin. As well as making me throw the book across the room, I wonder about the editors that this publishing house has employed when this happens.

Let's just clarify what I mean by "Head-hopping", just so we all know what we're talking about. Take the following paragraph:

"Mary sensed John's gaze on her as she entered the room, and it made her uncomfortable. John wondered if Mary had forgiven him yet for last night."

The first sentence establishes we're in Mary's POV. But in the second sentence we jump to John's POV - how does Mary know what John is thinking?

This is just a bad example from the top of my head, but I have actually read published novels that are almost as bad as this. There's nothing wrong with multiple POV characters, but there should be a clear break before switching from one character POV to another.

I think part of the problem with POV shifts is a lack of understanding of how they work. Being in third person POV does not mean that you can be in every character's head simultaneously, but I think some writers - and editors - suffer from this basic misapprehension.

I lay the blame for this partly on the fact that the education system does not teach people how to write correctly. I remember being taught POV in my English lessons at high school. What I was taught was: first person means the narrator is telling the story directly, and so the pronoun "I" is used. Third person is when the narrator is outside the story, looking in, and the pronoun "he" or "she" is used. Second person is when the story is told by someone who is not the main character, such as Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

I remember this lesson very clearly, and I knew at the time it was wrong. The Sherlock Holmes stories are written from a first person POV - Watson's. Second person is when the story is told from the point of view of someone directing the main character, and the pronoun "you" is used. It's pretty unusual to find a novel told in second person, but it was used for all the "choose your own adventure" books I used to love reading as a kid.

"Head-hopping" is an easy mistake to make - there were a couple of examples of it in early drafts of SUFFER THE CHILDREN. Fortunately for me, my editor picked up the ones that had slipped through my own editing process and berated me for it.

But other publishers do not seem to have such diligent editors, and I get tired of reading published novels that would not pass one of my writing group's critique sessions.

It emphasises my belief that one does not learn how to write at any educational centre. The only way to learn how to write is through the experience of writing.

Sadly, some editors need to go through the same process. Perhaps there should be an 'editor school'. POV should be one of the first lessons.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mythology Monday #1

With a little over a month left until The Witching Hour is available, I've decided to share my love of mythology with you in. Why, you may ask? Because The Witching Hour is full of mythological figures and deities from pagan cultures.

So to kick off my mythology kick, we'll start with the god Apollo who makes an appearance in The Witching Hour. Apollo was, in Greek mythology, the god of healing, prophecy, music and the sun.

Like most of his fellow Olympians, Apollo did not hesitate to intervene in human affairs. He was the reason the mighty Achilles fell in battle. Of all the heroes besieging the city of Troy in the Trojan War, Achilles was the best fighter by far. He had easily defeated the Trojan captain Hector in single combat. But Apollo helped Hector's brother Paris slay Achilles with an arrow.

When someone died suddenly, Greeks and Romans said to the victim was struck down by Apollo's arrow.

As god of music, Apollo is often depicted playing the lyre. He did not invent this instrument, however, but was given it by Hermes in compensation for cattle theft. Some say that Apollo did invent the lute, although he was best known for his skill on the lyre.

He won several musical contests by playing this instrument. In one case he bested Pan, who competed on his own invention, the shepherd's pipe. On this occasion, King Midas had the bad sense to say that he preferred Pan's music, which caused Apollo to turn his ears into those of an ass.

In The Witching Hour, Apollo is depicted as a god full of bravado until he's forced to admit he can't intefer with other pantheons. He, along with the other gods, get a chance to mess with Lucky Sands, my hero, but also show some complexity beyond Greek Myths. Still, it's always a good idea to understand the core stories that inspired them, and I hope you take away some new knowledge.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Daily Writing Goals

Many writers rack up word count on their manuscripts with the help of daily writing goals. They might set for themselves a goal of 500 words a day, 1000, 2000, perhaps even more. Having such a clear-cut goal can provide great motivation.

Sure wish that worked for me. ;-)

Once I've gotten a good start on a new work in progress I'll aim for at least a thousand words a day. Sometimes I get more, a lot more, but I've had plenty of days when I was happy to squeeze out two hundred words. Plenty of writers are a lot faster than I am and therefore far more prolific, and that's fine. If you can write five thousand words a day, I applaud you. Especially if you're happy with all of those words. Every writer is different and I figured out some time ago that I'd rather write two hundred words I was happy with in a day than two thousand words of crap. When you're just starting out and still trying to figure out what kind of writer you are and you see all these writers on Twitter reporting their daily word counts, it's easy to pressure yourself into thinking you need to do that, too. Both the high daily word count, and the reporting it to Twitter. I can't say I've never reported my word count, because I have, but I don't always do it, even on days when I write a lot. I know there will be days when I don't write as much, and I've learned not to worry about that. I only start to get worried if I go too many days in a row without writing at all, and that rarely happens anymore.

If a daily word count goal works for you and helps motivate you, then by all means go for it. But if you start to get obsessed with your numbers, you might want to remind yourself that it's the quality of the words that really counts.

Next Friday I'll talk about the complete opposite of this advice - NaNoWriMo. ;-)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Writing Lesson #2: Redrafting

In the early days, when I was writing stories in the back of exercise books, I wrote in pencil. And when I got to the end of the story, it was finished. The concept of First Draft was alien to me. But writing in pencil, for me, has always been rather messy. I'm left-handed, and tend to smudge the page when I have to lean my arm over it.

After a while I got to a point when I was rather proud of some of the stories I had written. I thought maybe they deserved better presentation. So I got some nice clean new notebooks, and wrote some of these stories out again. Neatly. In pen.

And in doing so, I discovered - quite inadvertently - that I was making corrections. I was changing an awkward word to something more concise. Rewriting sentences that I thought didn't sound right. Sometimes even taking out entire paragraphs, and substituting something else. And the story always sounded better for it.

I learned, therefore, Lesson Number 2 - the importance of redrafting.

When I started using a word processor, some years later, the whole rewriting process became much easier, of course, as all changes could be done on the computer without the need to waste all that paper. Now I couldn't imagine stopping with the first draft. It's strange to think back on those early days of assuming the story was finished when I wrote the last word.

Over the last twenty years, multiple drafts have become second nature to me. The thought of submitting the first draft to anyone is unthinkable. Yet it was only experience that taught me that the story gets better through rewriting; it wasn't a lesson I learned consciously.

That's the strange thing about writing. Learning the theory is all well and good, but the only real way to learn is by doing.

In writing this series of posts, I hope to impart some of the lessons that I have learned, through experience, through a lifetime of writing.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Music thine Muse

First off, allow me to start this blog post with an apology. Last week I missed my post because we had family come in from out of town and it was a crazy busy time for me.

This week I chose to blog about music. Music is intrinsic to my writing process without it, I find my words fall flat, my scenes are less dimensional and my characters don't seem like themselves. I, like some of my fellow writers use music to set scenes, motivate us and just keep us in the zone.

For my current work in progress, Dead Before Midnight, I often rely on music to help me get in my character's heads and set the tone of the scene. When I listen to the blues, it connects me to Derek, who doesn't find the blues painful or heartbreaking, but rather uplifting. I tend to switch it up to jazz and some old school Edith Piaf for Alex, because surprisingly, the often times complex tonality of jazz music fits her rather colorful personality.

When the two of them together, I find that classical music works best. Hauntingly beautiful nocturnes best illustrate all the things left unsaid. While during a fight seen, I find myself listening to Do-wop (50s and 60s pop) like The Chiffons, The Shirelles, and The Shang-ri-las.

Since the beginning of time, music has been able to move writers to create beautiful words and painful moments. And I find that this is increasingly true the more I write. Each book has it's own soundtrack, each character their own theme.

So the next time you want to get into a writer's head, ask them what's on their might just be able to figure out what motivates your favorite characters.

And now one last thing. I leave you with a piece of music that helped me write a zombie fight scene (I kid you not).

Friday, October 8, 2010

Some love for novellas

In dead-tree publishing the average urban fantasy or paranormal romance will be anywhere from ninety thousand to a hundred and ten thousand words. That translates roughly to a three hundred to four hundred page paperback. I've read plenty of authors that can fill up that many pages and make you love for every word. I've also read books with sub-plots that made me think, this was added purely to pad the  word count and make it a full length novel. The truth is, not every story needs ninety thousand words. For a long time, publishers did not find it cost-effective to publish novellas unless it was in an anthology, and usually even then you had to already be a name-brand author and be invited to contribute. Digital publishing has changed that.

I've read some terrific novellas released by digital publishers. Most of those stories probably would not have found a home otherwise, simply because of their length. My own novella, Bring On The Night, would not have been released by a dead-tree publisher because of that very reason. There would have been no point in my even submitting it to one, or to an agent for that matter. In the world of digital publishing, novellas are welcome, as are shorter works of twelve to twenty thousand words. (Always carefully read any publisher's submission guidelines before submitting.)

With a novella you have to get down to business pretty quick, and you have to stay focused on your main characters and the driving plot. That can create a different set of challenges for a writer than a full length novel that may have various minor characters and sub-plots, and a different experience for a reader. I like both, as a reader and as a writer. My second release from Lyrical, Mojo Queen, is a full length novel. The project I'm working on now is a novella and though I started it just for fun, it's turned into something with promise. I've decided I want to try submitting it once it's finished and polished, and turn it into a serial. (This is just a personal quirk of mine that has nothing to do with anything, but with full length novels I think of the word "series" and with novellas I think the word "serial." This has nothing to do with terms used in publishing, like I said, it's just me. And no, I don't know why.) What I have in mind would be novellas with an interconnected main story arc, something I've never done before. But that doesn't mean the individual pieces each need sixty to ninety thousand words. The purpose of part one can be done in about thirty thousand words. I like the idea of having these shorter works to both tell a tight, focused story and also be part of a larger story arc, getting closer to the payoff with each installment. Digital publishing offers writers a chance to do something like that.

What do you think of novellas? Are there many in your "stack" of ebooks?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

E-books and Obstacles

Since acquiring my e-reader, I have been buying e-books. And I have encountered two intensely annoying problems that are preventing me from buying all the e-books I would like.

First of all, each e-reader uses different software, and not all e-books are available in all formats. If an e-book I want to buy is only available on the Kindle, I won't be able to read it on my Sony e-reader. This I find rather irritating. It's like buying a film on DVD and discovering that this DVD won't run on your Toshiba DVD player - you have to have a Sony.

The other problem is the whole DRM issue (otherwise known as digital rights management). I've heard several arguments for DRM now, but I am yet to be convinced it's a good idea. In practice, what it means is that if I am at my computer in the UK, and I find an e-book I want to buy that's only available on a US e-book site, I can't buy it.

This seems, to me, to be completely daft. As I have family in Canada, hubby and I frequently visit there. We love browsing in Toronto's wonderful book stores, and we will invariably find books that we want to buy when we browse - generally things that aren't in print or available yet in the UK, or sometimes just because this is the sequel to the book one of us finished reading on the plane on the way over. So we'll buy the books, we'll put them in our suitcase and we'll bring them back to the UK. We're not doing anything illegal. We are legitimately buying the books; we are contributing to the Canadian economy; and we are putting money in the pockets of the writers. And we will enjoy the books. Even if I buy a print book from the US Amazon site it's not a problem - Amazon will happily ship the book to me in the UK - I just pay a bit more for postage.

Yet, if I try to buy an e-book from the US, I can't. I have discovered there are a number of e-books I can't buy, either because they are only available on US e-book sites or they are only available on Kindle. And it's really starting to bug me. Here I am ready to embrace this new electronic technology, and I find obstacles in my way. Have publishers not yet figured out that if the books people want to read are freely available to all as e-books, there's less of chance they will be pirated?

I will take a moment to praise my publisher, Lyrical Press, here because neither of these problems exist with their e-books. There are no digital rights restrictions on e-books purchased direct from Lyrical's site, so you can buy them from anywhere in the world (and I've had people in Canada, US and the UK buying my e-book), and each e-book is available in six different formats, so you can load it onto whichever e-reader you wish.

Yay for Lyrical. Now we just have to get the rest of the publishing world to follow in their trailblazing footsteps.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Some love for our bad (fictional) boyfriends

I've been struggling, fighting tooth and nail to finish a very uncooperative novella. It started out strong but at some point things fell apart. Now I'm trying to put it back together and see if I still have a story at the end. I'm afraid the whole thing may be a fail.

I also fail at blog posts this week. The part of my brain that comes up with blog topics, and usually doesn't have too much trouble, is empty right now. The best I can come up with is a counter-argument to Sara's great post on Wednesday about how vampires make bad boyfriends. I will make my argument with YouTube videos, because that is far more coherent than anything I could come up with right now.

The first video features Bad Boyfriend by Garbage and extols the vices of two blond vampires, Spike from the Buffyverse and Eric Northman from True Blood.

Next up is a fanvid set to Black Black Heart by David Usher. I'm a recent convert to The Vampire Diaries, only having started watching the first season recently. I was afraid it would be too sparkly and good brother Stefan Salvatore is afflicted with both a great deal of sparkle and more than his fair share of Angel-ish brooding. Maybe it’s all that forehead, I don't know. But bad brother Damon - wow, Damon is an actual vampire. And he's bad. So very, very bad. I am now completely addicted to this show.

Here's something for Sara and her inexplicable and somewhat blasphemous affection for Buffy's rebound boyfriend Riley. The song is by Taylor Somebody or other. I have no idea what's going on in the video because I gave up watching it in order to go look for more Damon Salvatore fanvids.

After a great deal of searching and a regrettable exposure to Britney Spears (apparently Toxic and Womanizer are very popular song choices for fanvids, to which I say, what the hell?) I found this gem set to Anberlin's cover of Enjoy the Silence. I watched it more than once, to ensure the overall quality of the product and to make sure that Damon's drunken sexy dance was adequately represented.

To sum up: if loving Damon Salvatore is wrong, I don't want to be right.

I promise I'll have an actual post next week. ;-)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why Vampires Make Bad Boyfriends

Writers of any genre involving paranormal creatures are united in their fondness for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". And sooner or later, amongst Buffy fans (at least the female ones), the question invariably arises: which of Buffy's boyfriends is best?

Fans of Spike and Angel seem fairly evenly divided. I, however, have always gone for Riley. Yes, I know, he's usually considered boring. I rather like 'boring'. Riley was solid, dependable, reliable, trustworthy (well most of the time, anyway). And he had a healthy respect for independent-minded women. And, most importantly, he was human.

I do understand what the whole 'sexy vampire' thing is all about. Vampires are the ultimate Bad Boys, and a lot of women are attracted to bad boys. For some reason, I never have been. The only 'bad boy' I ever had a thing for was Han Solo, and when I wrote my Star Wars fan fiction, at age 14, the alter ego I created to put myself in the Star Wars universe was Han Solo's half sister - even at that age, I had worked out that dating someone like him would lead to trouble.

But let's look at why vampires make bad boyfriends. First of all, there's the whole 'immortality' thing. If you want someone to grow old with, don't choose a vampire because they don't. He's still going to be looking young and sexy when you're old and wrinkly and drawing your pension.

Then there's the issue of not being able to go out in sunlight. You won't be able to go on beach holidays with your beloved. Or for picnics in the park. Or anywhere, in fact, that requires going out in daylight. That's going to be problematic in any relationship.

Another thing that occurs to me is that actually, it shouldn't technically be possible for a vampire - a male one, anyway - to have sex. Vampires don't have heart beats, and without a beating heart the blood does not flow through the body, and...well, let's just point out that blood flow is a key factor in being able to have sex, at least for men. But OK, vampires aren't real, we are talking fantasy, and the act of sucking blood has been equated with sex since Bram Stoker wrote "Dracula". So I am prepared to suspend my belief for this one, at least.

But ultimately, human/vampire relationships are doomed to failure, and even Buffy realised this in the end - it's why she accepted her relationship with Angel was over.

Maybe I'm far too sensible for my own good, and that's why I've never gone for the 'bad boy' idea. But I'm happy to let all the other Buffy girls fight over Angel and Spike. I'll take Riley. I prefer 'boring and dependable' over 'exciting and dangerous' even when it comes to fantasy men.

I accept I'm in the minority here. Maybe I'm just weird. I'll take a geek over a bad boy any day. In the long term, they'll cause less heartache.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Requiem is Available Today

The moment that every author waits for has finally arrived. My book was released.
Requiem is now available from Noble Romance and I couldn't be more excited.

Requiem is the story of Kate, a vampire succubus, who has wandered through life feeding on both the blood and sex of mortals, with an utter disregard for human life. Even that gets boring after a while. But problems don't arise until Kate meets the new “Hollywood Heartthrob,” Aidan Cross.

Aidan is human, which would normally put him on the menu, but Kate finds herself attracted to him in more ways than one and decides to wait before she kills him to see if the allure is something more than his irresistible good looks.

Jack and Kate have a very complicated relationship dating back to the fall of Rome. He's an angel, she's not. One night with her will make him fall and be damned to life in the demon ranks, and she'll become mortal.

With Aidan, she gets a chance to play human. One night with Jack and she'll actually be human, but that also means giving up everything she loves.

Requiem is an unapologetic look into the journey of one vampire--a memoir of sorts. Kate is unrepentant about her lot in life and her need to feed, but instead of being a complete villain, she undergoes a journey of redemption, and learns that life is more the selfish pleasure.

To give you a little taste, I'll give you an excerpt:

If I weren't already dead, I would die of boredom.

In fact, I wondered if I could die again from the crushing wave of tedium the lecturer's words stirred as he droned on about microquasars, primordial magnetic fields, and dark matter. So what was I doing at an astrophysics lecture? I was out hunting. And as soon as the speech was over, I would lure the handsome graduate student two rows in front of me out back to the quiet little alley and drink his sweet life's elixir.

Or at least that's what I would have done, had my phone not started going off in the middle of the lecture. Annoyed, I made a quick exit out of the auditorium. Another missed opportunity. One I was particularly upset about, considering I had already invested a little over one hour of listening to that boring discussion.

The phone stopped ringing before I could answer it. A cool breath grazed the back of my neck. Only one person would call me off of a hunt and play like this. "This had better be good Nick," I said, through gritted teeth. I hadn't fed any of my hungers in nearly a month, and I was ready to tear the head off of a cow if that would've quenched my thirsts.

He materialized in front of me, a mischievous smile on his face.

Nick was a demon from way back, although his exact age I couldn't be sure of. He never would come clean about that. We both usually stopped at the Roman Empire, although sometimes he would hint at knowledge of Mesopotamian culture far beyond what's known in history books.

Unlike the popular culture images of demons, he didn't have scales or claws. Most demons didn't. Nick had a passing resemblance of a young Johnny Depp this century. He was fond of changing his appearance to avoid being recognized, especially if he chose to stay in a city for a long time. One of the first things you learn, as an immortal, was to either stick with really big cities or move a lot, in order to avoid being recognized.

Of course, most of us avoided social interactions with mortals. They tended to have the pesky habit of dying just when you'd finish breaking them in like a pet. It was a lonely existence we led. Most of us were solitary, having brief moments of companionship and no true circle of friends. Immortals tended to have very little patience for other immortals. Perhaps it was the fact that our longevity made us very depressing to be around—we often spent too much time reminiscing about the good old days. Then again, there were always exceptions to the rule.

I think one of the things that endeared Nick to me was that, unlike a lot of other demons I had come across in my years of living, he had at one point been mortal. Like me, he had made a choice that led him to the life he had now.

"I need you to do me a favor."

Not in the mood for what he had in mind, I shook my head and walked out of the building into the cool spring night.

Nick followed behind me, "Kate, please."

"Nope. I'm not interested," I replied, walking briskly down the city sidewalk.

"You know you've been in a bad mood for five years now." He kept pace with my rapid steps, breathing down my neck.

Five years might as well have been a few months the way time passed for us. One of the first things people think of with immortality is how cool it is to know that you get a chance to live forever. You get to see the world change. In actuality, it can grow quite tiresome. The world changes, but you stay the same, locked in an unending cycle.

Sure, you drift along doing whatever you please, but soon enough you've seen it all, then the thrill is gone. Humans have no idea what the phrase "the more things change the more they stay the same" truly means, but I do. I learned the meaning millennia before the phrase was ever created.

God I was bored. Could you have a midlife crisis when you were well beyond a mortal mid life?

I stopped abruptly and did an about face. "What's the favor?"

"Now we're talking." Nick smiled. "There's a party over in West Hollywood at some house. I need to get a few contracts signed."

"Don't you have enough celebrities who have sold their souls?"

"This is not a celebrity. It's some agent who wants to be head of a studio."

I crossed my arms over my chest. "What do you need me for?"

Nick did his best to be charming. "I need you to use that lovely succubus charm of yours to get me in the door."

My succubus charm. I rolled my eyes at the mention. I didn't like using my so-called succubus charm if I wasn't in the mood to use it to feed.

It's a well-known fact that most vampires feed off of blood alone. But the much lesser known fact is that some of us had the ability to feed off of other things, such as emotion, energy or sex.

I could feed off either blood or lust. Unlike my pure-vampire brethren, I got the chance to choose what sustenance I wanted at the moment. It was all because my maker was an incubus, a male vampire who could feed off of lust. So when I died, I got the very same abilities.

It came with some perks. My maker was a very handsome man. His skin glowed milky white, his lips were lush, his hair a rich black. But his eyes were the most beautiful, the most compelling—violet with silver rings around the irises. His incredible looks and mesmerizing eyes were for luring in prey, the succubus and incubus arsenal. Things he couldn't help but give to me when he made me. When I died, everything about me changed, and the people I had known would not have been able to recognize me. Becoming a vampire succubus changed my appearance so much, I scarcely remember what I looked like in my mortal days.

"You know I don't do parties." I sighed. I hadn't been to a Hollywood shindig since the Rat Pack were the Kings of Cool and Marilyn Monroe was still making films.

"Please. I don't ask you for many favors," Nick reasoned. "Besides, it could be fun."

"You know how I feel about today's Hollywood," I reminded him.

"Yeah, and that's why you haven't been to a movie since A Clockwork Orange in nineteen seventy-one."

Knowing what it meant for him as a soul collector, I couldn't hold onto my reluctance for long. Live long enough, and you had a habit of collecting favors that could be cashed in anytime, place, or century. "Fine. I'll help you."

He smirked and pulled my hand, tugging me in the direction of his car.

The party in question was being held in the West Hollywood hills. It didn't matter which decade in Hollywood's history you were in, the parties remained the same. The elite came to rub elbows and network, while young starlet hopefuls acted as eye-candy for the lecherous executives and agents. Although it had to be said, the starlets today were far more forward about the things they were willing to do to fulfill their ambitions than their predecessors had been. Where the infamous couch sessions were kept secretive in the old days, today's hopefuls had a definite exhibitionist streak.

Security at the mansion was tight. So tight that there was no way for a crasher to get in without making a scene. No wonder Nick needed me. Soon I stood before the burly doorman, who'd been assigned to check invitations.

"Your invitation, ma'am?"

I smiled and turned on my preternatural charm and charisma. "Darn, I must have left it at home." I let my voice roll over him like velvet, cloaking any suspicions he might have had. I flashed him another quick smile. One that said, look at me, I'm cute. He smiled back and let Nick and me through the door.

The party was just as I had anticipated—too cool and trendy to really be hip. The room was dim—what they liked to call mood lighting. Truthfully, it was just irritating. My eyes could adjust to any level of light, but I suppose I felt the halfhearted attempt was ridiculous. On or off, was my thing. One or the other, none of this mood crap.

I looked around the party with a hungry gaze. My brain switched over to predator mode, scanning the crowd for a meal. There were plenty of victims . . . err . . . I mean, oh hell, why finesse the truth? I meant victims. I had only to choose the hunger I wanted to feed.

A short man carrying two drinks approached me. He had a shiny bald head that reminded me more of grease than anything else. I found him utterly disgusting as he smiled and handed me the second drink in his hand. I sniffed it, taking in the scents of mint, rum, lime, club soda and sugar. But there was something else in the cocktail no human nose would have detected. A Mickey. The poor, greasy, little bastard was trying to slip me a dose of Rohypnol, a date rape drug, not knowing what I was and that his special cocktail would have no effect on me. I took a sip of the drink and gave him a sensual smile.

He showered me with the usual slimy compliments lowly producers, without any real clout, gave to all the wannabe starlets. The typical, "You are a very beautiful woman", "You ought to be in movies", or my favorite, "I can help you get into the pictures, if you're willing to do what it takes".

I smiled and nodded politely, every so often offering a gracious giggle while I pretended that the drug in my drink was starting to take effect. He examined my tired eyes. His black irises narrowed on my bosom. I recognized that dark glimmer, the vicious stare. He hunted those he felt were weaker, stupider, and more susceptible to what he perceived as charm.

He had no idea I was a predator, too, and that he had just become prey.

I let him usher me out of the party and to his waiting car. He smirked as I pretended to drift in and out of consciousness.

I decided to kill him tonight. I didn't have to kill him to feed, but I wanted to. I wanted to feel his blood run hot down my throat, hear his pathetic whimper as he realized what was happening, and I'd enjoy it. I'd decided from the moment he approached me with a cocktail laced with Rohyphnol that he would die in a painful manner. I would not roll his mind or seduce him into sex to feed. That would make him enjoy it too much. I'd made up my mind, when I decided to kill him, to make him suffer.

He pulled the car into a dark, open field. He was going to rape me—well, attempt to rape me—in the open, away from anyone who could bear witness to his crimes.

That was fine and dandy for me. No witnesses.

Opening my eyes, bright and full, I smirked and moved to the edge of my seat. He nodded and smiled as I placed a hand on his groin.

He unbuckled his pants and wriggled them down around his ankles, before leaning his seat back. I suppose he merely assumed he didn't use enough of the drug to keep me asleep. But judging by the look on his face, he wasn't too disappointed.

I sniffed the foul smell of his sweaty crotch. He disgusted me on every level. But the prize was yet to come. I could smell the blood in his femoral artery, flowing just under the surface of his white-gray skin. It was a smell I knew very well. A smell I relished and enjoyed, especially now that I was starved for it.

A smirk graced my lips as I extended my canines into two dainty fangs. I kissed his thigh, right at the femoral artery, and licked the area, anticipating the scalding release of his blood. He let out a happy sigh. Mustn't play with my food, I thought to myself, just before I plunged my fangs into the meat of his flesh.

He yelped in pain and tried to beat me off of him. I took both of his hands into one of mine and held him firm. His blood was hot as it flowed out of him and into me, filling my belly with its warmth.

When his heart stopped beating and the blood had run dry, I released my grip on him and let his corpse slump in the seat. He had been a good meal, if nothing else.

My hunger satiated, I got out of the car and ran with my superhuman abilities away from the scene. To anyone who might have been passing by, I would have only registered in their subconscious as barely a blip on their radar.

Was I worried that when the cops found the body they'd trace it back to me? Nope. They would find no evidence that I even existed. No remnants of shed hair or skin for them to find. Nothing with a shred of DNA. That sort of stuff didn't really apply when you became an immortal. Like I said, the world around me changed, I didn't.

I, like every other undead creature on this planet, was stuck in a permanent stasis.

Full, I felt better, physically, but my mood was still shitty. And, I was still bored. The kill had been easy, too easy, like everything else in this modern world. I'd had millennia to perfect my techniques, to learn to stalk and truly hunt my prey, but in this modern world of technology and instant gratification, it had all become so easy. There was no thrill of the chase anymore. Hell, there was no chase. Humans had grown soft.

Young vampires relished this culture of instant gratification. This breed of human that was so easy to catch. There was no thrill to it. I remember the days when humans had true warriors who would put up some fight. Sure, they lost every time, but it was a hell of a lot more fun. And people thought these modern days were violent.

I was in a sour mood when I finally got back to my house in Redondo. The home came complete with its own private beach access, a little ways down a hill.

Built in the mission style, with lots of Spanish architecture, the home had attracted my attention and I'd purchased it when it was still brand new during the twenties. I mean the nineteen twenties, although I did buy a little villa in Greece during the year 20 B.C. It's was a nice home in Athens. Unfortunately, it got destroyed in an earthquake and the subsequent fires. Oh well.

I opened up all the windows in the two-story home, with lightening speed, allowing the sea breeze from the Pacific to fill the house. The morning sunlight peeked in, chasing the darkness from each room. It was an old wives' tale that vampires would burst into flame or turn to dust from contact with sunlight. We could be out anytime we pleased; however, in the days of old, it was easier to hunt at night.

I curled up in my favorite chaise and began to read Eugénie by Honoré De Balzac in its original French. Being fluent in most languages, including the dead ones, was one of the perks of having lived for so long, in almost every corner of the world, and not having to sleep as much as a mortal.

Vampires, in general, slept when we felt like it, where we felt like it. Hell, there'd been years where I hadn't slept at all, and then times where I slept for years. I missed the entire American Revolution. I had decided that since I was so bored of that era, I'd find a nice place to sleep it out. I slept for an entire decade between 1776 and 1786 in a mausoleum in France. It was the safest place to be at the time. I didn't need to worry about some overzealous villager or uneducated peasant believing folklore and trying to stake me.

Not that a stake through the heart would kill me. I learned that early in my afterlife. It would hurt, be uncomfortable and plain irritating, but it wouldn't kill me. Very few humans could actually kill an immortal. It took a special breed. They had to be born, but often these natural slayers had no idea they held such special powers. And as time went on, there were less and less demon, vampire, or whatever else-slayers out to kill us. The humans had become so used to our presence, they typically ignored that little voice in their heads that said there was something wrong with the person standing next to them. We were living in an age of political correctness; no one wanted to be the one to point out that there was something different or not right about his or her neighbor, or the beautiful woman sitting at the bar. They didn't want to be stuck with a negative social stigma.

In truth, most of us were thankful for that. Those of us old enough to remember the bad ol' days, where bringing attention to yourself made you a pariah, were well accomplished at blending in with the humans and not arousing suspicion. Sure, there were a few little clues that we were not like them, but for the most part, we looked like any other humans. Even demons and angels blended in well. They shifted in and out of forms when needed.

Do you know how to tell when there is an ageless immortal in the room? It's not the expensive clothing they're wearing—that can be imitated by mortals. It's the jewelry they wear. Those of us who are old tend to collect pieces throughout the years and wear them. Pieces that belonged in museums. Of course, mortals would think they were clever replicas if they had even noticed them to begin with. That little distinction was not enough to cause humans to think we were unlike them.

It was the young ones we worried about. The ones who tended to be reckless and impulsive, bringing attention to themselves by acting out their God fantasies. They were the ones most at risk and who needed to be kept in line. That's why, when a new vampire is made, their sire is around them for a few years, showing them the ropes, even if they don't plan on making them a companion. We weren't completely dog-eat-dog. We did have some sense of moral responsibility. Mainly our code was limited to the whole life in the shadows thing.

Granted, we didn't really live in the shadows, but we were the ultimate secret society. Only a select few even knew of our existence. We immortals, all of us, not just the vampires, liked to keep our existence secretive. We didn't want mortals to spoil our fun and games.

I was just getting comfortable in the chair, reading the book's climax, when I felt a presence in the room. I looked up from my book to see Nick sitting in the chair across from me. He had a glow about him, a glow I'd seen a hundred times before. The glow he got when someone signed their soul away.

Nick had once told me that collectors were motivated to collect souls not only because it was their job, but also because they got a real energy boost from it. It was like a feeding for them. He explained it was similar to the glow and feeling of complete satisfaction I got when I fed on sex and lust rather than blood.

"You know when you sit utterly still like that, it's unnerving. It's like you're a statue or something," he said.

"It takes years of practice to be able to sit like this," I replied. It was true. After being dead for a while, you find you don't really have to do things like move. You never get uncomfortable from staying in one position for too long.

"Centuries, I suppose," he said, taking two tickets out of his jacket's inner pocket. He looked around the living room. "You know there are really only two things you need in here, a refrigerator and a television."

"When I do eat regular food, I eat out. And you know I haven't owned a television since I Dream of Jeannie went off the air." I loved that show with all its kitschy humor. They just didn't make sitcoms like that anymore.

Nick snorted at that. He and I had this discussion a lot, and he knew he would gain no ground. It was always fun to get two very stubborn immortal beings together.

"I've got two tickets here for a movie premiere tonight." Nick fanned himself with them.

"So," I replied indignantly. "I've been to plenty of premieres. None of them have been as much fun as the one for A Streetcar Named Desire."

"You only say that because Marlon Brando was the last celebrity crush you had and you fucked him afterward."

I smiled at the mention of that tryst. "What can I say, Marlon was a good shag. We lasted the whole weekend actually."

"Ah yes." He smiled fondly. "I got an excellent soul out of that deal."

I shagged Brando, and Nick got his soul. Oh, don't feel too bad for the bloke, he did go on to be one of the biggest movie stars of all time and live a long life.

"Come on, Kate. You've been in a rut. Maybe this is just what the doctor ordered." Nick put on his best charming smile. "Besides, there will be plenty of food there."

I frowned and put down my book. "I'm full."

"Oh right, you probably drained that guy you left the party with. But I bet you haven't fed the succubus part of you yet." He no doubt noticed the lack of a glow in my skin.

"I can go years without feeding that."

"But then you need blood more often," he reasoned.

I nodded. He was right, damn him.

It wouldn't kill me to get out and go to the premiere. I just didn't do the whole Hollywood scene anymore. It was hard to keep a low profile in this digital age if you insisted on being at every hot spot or celebrity haunt. The paparazzi were bolder these days, and with everything being recorded for posterity, people would notice the lack of aging.

"All right. I'll go." Nick was one of two people who could get me to go to these sorts of things. I considered Nick one of my only two very close friends. The other one was a very old friend, and was due for a visit very soon.

Nick got up from the couch. "Great. I'll pick you up at five thirty. Movie starts at seven."

"Who's the soul?" I asked.

"Does it really matter? Some bit actress. Let's just say she'll soon be a star." Nick liked working the Hollywood beat. Besides the perks, like movie premiere invitations and award shows, there were lots of easy souls, ripe for collection. Plenty of people would sell their souls for money, power, and fame; Nick was just there to collect. All they had to do was say the magic words, "I'd sell my soul . . . ." or some variation thereof, and poof. There was Nick, contract in hand, ready to have them sign away. And no, it wasn't signed in their blood. It was done with a ballpoint pen, preferably black ink.

I wasn't really in the mood to read anymore. Nick had ruined it with his movie talk. Instead, I decided to go shopping and get a little pampering done. I wanted to look my best if I was going to a big movie premiere tonight. Although, for a vampire who was a succubus, it wasn't really hard for me to look appealing. All I needed to do was smile.

Now that its out, I have to ask you to purchase your copy over at Noble Romance
But stayed tuned, The Witching Hour will be out this November. And don't forget to head over to my website for the virtual release party!